The Thames Path

Walked: The Thames Path

Date: 31 August 2013 – 10 September 2016

Distance: 184 miles

Walked with: Alone or with various ‘guest star’ walkers

Weather: Often wet, cold and muddy 

Today I finally finished the Thames Path, after a number of other attempts earlier this year were aborted due to the tendency of the Thames – pretty much as soon as you get past Kingston – to flood. National Trail #12 now completed!

I’ll tell you straight out; as far as National Trails go, this one is right at the bottom of my list (The Ridgeway is juuuuust above it). For me, it’s at it’s best in London, when the constantly changing river and cityscape envelopes it with an urban hug. And to be fair, that’s where most people finish it. But as I live not far from The Thames Barrier, it was inevitable that I’d start in SE London before gradually making my way out. And by the time I got as far as Windsor I realised… I was committed to section walking the flipping thing.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not a bad walk. But I love hill walking, and there’s only one (tiny) one, near Pangbourne. I like expansive views; this is lots of very expensive houses, an incredible amount of WW2 pill boxes (in Oxfordshire), and, well, a river. Signage and mud are often both an issue as well, and today, being my final day was no exception – the way marking between Cricklade and the Source could definitely do with some work.

That said, I have seen some really beautiful buildings, wandered in to some truly posh local pubs, and in the winter it can be quite lovely. So here’s a few photos from my various trots along the Thames Path -including a number of my favourite flooding ones!


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Glyndŵr’s Way – Part 1 – Knighton to Dylife

Walked: Glyndŵr’s Way – Knighton to Dylife

Date: 27-30 May 2016

Distance: 60 miles

Walked with: It was a solo adventure 🙂

Weather: Dry, still, scorchio!
A strange thing happened over the second May Bank Holiday weekend. A little like entering a parallel universe that looks like our own but is somehow, magically, different, I spent four days walking in mid Wales… and not only did it not rain, but I spent the last two days walking in 25 degree sunshine. I got an actual, honest-to-God suntan. The few people I saw were walking around with bewildered expressions on their faces, staring in wonderment at the alien ball of fire in the sky… Ok, I am slightly exaggerating on that last point, but only a bit. Point is, the weather was abnormally good. For Wales.

Glyndŵr’s Way is the 12th National Trail I’ve now embarked on, and I’m planning to go back a couple of times over the summer to complete the 135 mile walk. It’s a lot more winding and convoluted than the other national trails. Carving a wobbly ‘v’ shape through the mid-Wales countryside, it starts and finishes at the border with England, with the lovely, fairly affluent feeling, town of Machynlleth at its centre. 

The reason for its odd route is its eponymous hero Owain Glyndŵr, the legendary  Prince of Wales  in the early 1400s, and the last actual Welshman to hold that title (our present day one has rather more Germanic and Mediterranean roots). He was famous for revolting… against the evil English. Despite large sums of money on offer for his capture, his  fellow countrymen  (and women) never snitched on him to the more powerful English, Shakespeare wrote about him some 200 years after his death, and in the 19th century he was re-launched as the historical figurehead for Welsh nationalism. Basically, he was pretty cool, and much like the path named after him, he wandered around all over the place in mid-Wales. You can learn more about him here

This four day walk took me through real farming country. As the area is famed for its precipitation, sheep farming dominates the landscape – making for field after field of green, lush pasture land adorned with thousands of sheep. It’s so green that it almost makes your eyes ache – the wonderful moorland of Beacon Hill Crown Estate was the only variation from the otherwise verdant theme. It was all beautiful, and uplifting. Oh – and devoid of people: in four days of walking, I think I saw a total of perhaps ten people actually on the trail… and most of those were locals who happened to be in their gardens as I passed by. One chap, who was making a BBQ out of an old washing machine drum (he’ll be ok, come the zombie apocalypse) had a very welcome honesty box stall outside his house, along with free water for walkers, which was gratefully received on hot, hilly day three of my walk. Earlier that same day, I heard – but didn’t see – a farmer in the tiny village of Bwich-y-sarnau swearing his head off at his sheep. Silently giggling to myself, I walked on…

The tranquility of the walk was only punctured the once. The town of Llanidloes, which must be in the running for most pubs per head of population in the UK, turned out to be very lively indeed on a hot bank holiday Sunday, with an England V Wales rugby game providing the soundtrack to my arrival in town. I’m very glad indeed that I brought earplugs with me!

I did actually have some company for the last hour or so of my walk to Dylife on the final day. I met Stuart, one of two other people I met a few days before in pretty little Anbeycwmhir (it has abbey ruins. And a nice looking pub that doesn’t seem to open until after 8pm), sheltering in the shade of a stone wall near Nant-y-Gwrdu… I told you it was hot! His company helped the last few miles of my walking adventure flyby, and before I knew it, the Star (previously the Star Inn) at Dylife was in view. As I approached this remote place, standing alone in a surrounding countryside full of rolling hills and nothing else, I realised that I’d actually been to that exact spot about five years before on a cycling trip! Anyway, despite the fact that I wasn’t staying there, the lovely owner Louise let me have a shower (a kindness that my fellow train passengers back to London would have greatly appreciated, had they only known)  and made me a drink while I waited for my taxi. She was so lovely, and The Star (which is primarily a retreat) so cozy and welcoming, that I’ll be heading back there in July to get a day of walking in. If retreats are your thing, check out her website here

Anyway, enough waffle from me. Have some pictures…

Photos – leaving Knighton / the fabulous moorland of the Beacon Hill Crown Estate / Bryn Mawr (shortly after Felindre) / approaching Abbeycwmhir / early start on Upper Esgair Hill / near Llidiart-y-Waun / looking over to the village of Y Fan, near Llanidloes / Llyn Clywedog reservoir / bluebell fringed path at Ystradhynod 


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Yorkshire Wolds Way

Walked: Yorkshire Wolds Way
Date: 24-29 March 2016

Distance: 79 miles

Walked with: Eleanor, Sally & Mike

Weather: Surprisingly good

Booking a six day walking holiday, in Yorkshire, in March – well, it was always a high risk activity. Dire warnings of high winds and torrential rain abound, and the pessimistic Hull taxi driver who dropped us off at the start informed us that the drizzly day would be the best we would get. 

Which made what actually happened so brilliant: while much of the rest of the country had dreadful weather, we had a lot of sunshine, barely a drop of rain, and on the days when there was wind, it kept changing direction to push us along to our next destination. Also (and here’s a top tip to winter walkers), the Wolds Way is almost entirely chalky underfoot – which seems to lead to such well drained soil that our boots saw very little in the way of mud. In March! In England! Awesome.

The signage on the Yorkshire Wolds Way was also the best I’ve seen on any of the National Trails, so we didn’t get lost once and I rarely had to use my map. Add to that a series of lovely pubs, good ale, well cooked food and excellent company and you’ve got a great Easter walking break. 

It’s a lovely landscape to wander through: lots of narrow dry valleys, steep banks and chalk downs that hint of fairytale kingdoms just around the corner… or, in the case of Deep Dale, the abandoned medieval village of Wharram Percy, with its picturesque church ruins. This is predominately ‘posh’ farming country – most of the farms we passed through felt like they were more of a hobby than a livelihood, with their immaculately kept lands and properties, and you walk through a number of very large estates, including the impressive Londesborough Estate, the site of a well-connected country ‘pile’ since the 16th century, the one time home of George Hudson (19th century ‘Railway King’), and now home to a banking family.

The one issue with this otherwise lovely walk is the scarcity of accommodation. With the exception of the quite brilliant Cross Keys pub in the beautiful (and beautifully situated) village of Thixendale, we had to walk off route (or get picked up) to get to all our B&Bs. I felt every step of the steep walk down to Millington, after a 19 mile day… although the climb back up again, after a good night’s rest, felt much easier! That said, both Millington and Thixendale are lovely villages, and the Gait Inn at Millington and the aforementioned Cross Keys were terrific, thriving village pubs with good, solid food, excellent ales and friendly staff that I can’t recommend enough. The Cross Keys in particular is a surprise; from the outside it looks seriously unpromising, but both the pub and its excellent B&B accommodation deserve all the plaudits they’ve already received elsewhere on line. 

Another village worth a mention is Goodmanham, which we walked through on our second day. It’s got a fantastic pub, the Goodmanham Arms, in which we would have loved to have spent more time. It’s also got tens of bizarre little signs next to all the daffodils outside the church, entreating people not to stand on them. Quite took away from the otherwise beautiful display of these lovely spring flowers and made us mock whoever had put them there for the rest of the walk. 

Anyway, all said, if you haven’t walked a national trail yet, this relatively short one is a great introduction to long distance walking in England. And as far as extended pub crawls go – as I’ve hopefully established – there are some cracking stops along the way! 

Photos: Near South Cave (Day 1); Newbold Wold (Day 2); Frankly bizarre instructions not to stand on the daffodils in Goodmanham (Day 2); One of the fab Wolds Way ‘bendy’ benchs, this one at Huggate Sheepwalk (Day 3); Looking out from the ruins of the church at Wharram Percy (Day 4); View from Bassett Brow (Day 4); Rainbow over Winteringham (Day 4); View from Staxton Wold (Day 6); Filey Beach (Day 6)


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South West Coast Path 9/9

Walked from: Porlock Weir, Somerset

Walked to: Minehead, Somerset 

Date: 28 February 2016

Distance: 9 miles 

Weather: Brrrr… Cold

Nearly eight years and some 630 miles after I started, I finished walking the South West Coast Path today. My guidebook informs me that anybody who completes the path will have climbed more than four times the height of Everest by the time they finish; and as my book says it, it must be true! I’ve walked parts on my own, others with a variety of friends, and the first few times with my now very much ex-partner… who turned out to be crap at walking up and down steep hills. I should have known then that we wouldn’t work out… 

The final nine mile stage of the walk was mainly a straightforward trot from Portlock Weir (with its fabulous restaurant and pub) to Minehead and its glamorous backdrop of Butlins Holiday Camp. A stumble along the pebbles of Portlock Beach was followed by the marshland near the tiny village of Bossington, and the hilltop walking near Selworthy Beacon and down into Minehead (an attractive town) was easy – if very ‘fresh’ in the freezing wind. But the haul up Bossington Hill ensured that the SWCP’s legendary steepness will continue to live long in my memory. 

Cornwall, Devon, Dorset and Somerset – thank you, you’ve been amazing. 

Photos: The beach at Porlock Weir / West Porlock / Mid-way up Bossington Hill / The top of Bossington Hill / finishing at Minehead


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South West Coast Path 8/9

Walked from: Lynmouth, Devon

Walked to: Porlock Weir, Somerset 

Date: 27 February 2016

Distance: 13 miles 

Weather: Dry, bit windy, cold

The hills were back with a vengeance today as I continued my traverse of Exmoor National Park, but two friends joined me for today’s walk, which helped distract me from yet more ups and downs on the SWCP. 

We went a bit off route today on the approach from Countisbury to Butter Hill, which meant more off-roading down a steep, bracken covered and wind-swept hillside. Sensing a pattern? Back on route, Old Barrow Hill, Sugarloaf Hill and Tor Knap provided the other undulations of the day, while tiny Culbone Church, at 10.66m, merits a mention in the Guiness Book of Records – it’s England’s smallest parish church. And at some point in all this adventuring, we left Devon behind and strode on in to Somerset. 

The real joy of today’s walk was finishing: Porlock Weir is a gem of a place. I stayed at the excellent Cafe there (very nice rooms), had a couple of drinks in cozy and welcoming ‘The Bottom Ship’ pub, and had an excellent dinner in the exuberantly decorated, antique-filled restaurant ‘Miller’s at the Anchor’. My one overnight stay on the Somerset part of the SWCP was a good one. Although it’s possible that we didn’t need that last bottle of wine… 

Photos: Woods near Old Barrow Hill / Near Sugarloaf Hill / Culbone Church / Approaching Porlock Weir 


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South West Coast Path 7/9

Walked from: Coombe Martin, Devon

Walked to: Lynmouth, Devon 

Date: 25 February 2016

Distance: 13.5 miles 

Weather: Dry, bit windy

In a massive piece of luck, today’s threatened rain was a no show, so while it was pretty chilly out there today, it was gloriously dry. Buoyed by the morning sunshine, I did the walk from my B&B in Coombe Martin (Mellstock House – lovely place, very well run) to the highest point not just on the South West Coast Path but the entire British mainland’s coastline in exactly an hour – the ominously named ‘Great Hangman’. Unsurprisingly, the views from there and it’s somewhat more diminutive cousin (Little Hangman) were quite something!

From there it was down hill, then up once more to Holdstone Hill, descending gradually on Trentishoe Down. Attempted to avoid the very steep downhill to the River Heddon, failed miserably, and spent an ‘interesting’ half hour off-piste, scrambling down the bracken covered hill. It’s not a descent I’ll forget in a hurry, but apart from startling a few sheep with my sudden appearance on their previously quiet hillside perch, there was no harm done, and the rest of the walk was a straightforward yomp up and down (and up again) adjacent to Woody Bay. While the Lee Abbey tearooms were firmly shut for the winter, I found an open one when I arrived in Lynton, in which I waited out the half an hour before my B&B opened for business… yup, another cream tea for me.

The two hangmen hills aside, the other geographical stand-outs from today were a really rather pretty waterfall and the Valley of Rocks, which the coast path takes you through just before getting to Lynton (which is the twin village of Lynmouth – I suppose a little like the twin cities of Minneapolis and St Paul. Except on a somewhat smaller scale…). Not being geologically inclined, I can only tell you that they are really very large rock formations, with some odd shapes going on. One local legend has it that the rocks were once wives of the devil, who came home one night to find them having an orgy with his neighbour, and in a fit of anger turned them all into stone. Clearly a more logical explanation than them being formed during the last ice age. 

My home for tonight is a quiet little place called Lynmouth, where you would think little of any great consequence had ever occurred. But back in August 1952, flash flooding killed 34 people and destroyed 39 properties. Quite unimaginable; there’s an interesting article about it on the BBC website:

Photos: View from Little Hangman back to Coome Martin / View from Great Hangman / Trentishoe Down / Flipping great big hill I scrambled down / Valley of Rocks 


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South West Coast Path 6/9

Walked from: Woolacombe, Devon

Walked to: Coombe Martin, Devon 
Date: 24 February 2016
Distance: 14.5 miles 

Weather: Sunny, still, great visibility

My guide book says that, on very clear days, you can see Wales from this section of the South West Coast Path. I spent my entire day glancing over to my left to look at our neighbouring country; the visibility was so good that it was possible to see buildings, let alone the Welsh coastline. Sadly, the weather forecast is telling me that my run of weather-related luck runs out today: tomorrow the Met Office is forecasting rain and the return of the wind – but hell, that’s tomorrow’s problem…

The morning section of today’s walk was a bit of a social whirl after the solitude of the rest of my holiday. As I walked out of Woolacombe, I met Stuart and his dog Nell, who made for excellent company as we headed around the ominously named Morte Point – which apparently was the culprit of five shipwrecks in 1852 alone. It’s exposed position would have made it impossible to walk just a few days ago, but today’s benign weather made it an absolute pleasure. 

Bidding a fond farewell to my human and canine companions, heading around the beautiful – and undulating – coastline to the lighthouse at Bull Point, I came across a few more people (some wearing just t-shirts and shorts, which seemed ambitious, even in this weather), and in the tiny village of Lee I was even invited to have a cup of tea by Kevin, who was doing some work on the outside of his spectacularly situated house. Offer was duly accepted! 

From Lee, an hour’s worth of verdant and gently undulating countryside brought me to Ilfracombe, and a very filling pie & jacket potato lunch in a cafe near the harbour. The walk out of the town through the woodland and on to nearby Hele was the low point of the walk so far – poorly signed through underwhelming woods, it felt like a pointless diversion away from the main road. Things picked up again by Watermouth Bay, and although my aching feet made the final hour into Coombe Martin drag, it was very exciting to see the coastline of Exmoor National Park emerge in the distance. I’ve never walked in Exmoor before, and tomorrow’s walk starts with an ascent of the highest point on the South West Coast Path. Gulp.

Photos: View from Morte Point towards the lighthouse / lovely inlet between Morte Point and Bull Point / typically steep SW coast path / approach to Ilfracombe / Ilfracombe Harbour /  Outer Stone near Watermouth 

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