Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow – a 10 miler around Audley End got the vote….or did it?

-18 C in parts of Britain –  icy roads, snowy fields, roads and public transport a shambles, sounds like time to get boots on, thermals sorted and furry hats at the ready – Essex here I come.

Grizzle took a snow check and Rufus was not invited so it was Annie, the Polo and the M25/M11 off to Newport (Essex) for a winter stride to Audley End, or so I thought.  No trains, no buses, no information – the railways of our great nation fail again.  But for the snow, the rescue plan walk would have been a fairly uninspiring circular around Bishop’s Stortford instead, will a winter walk ever go to plan?

Thumbs up for a walk rescued from the jaws of being defeated by the hopeless rail services of our great land

Striding out of Bishop’s Stortford station, staff advising it was “like a magical mystery tour on the trains today”, (no Costa, no Starbucks, even the trains were few and far between), along the Hertfordshire Way the team strode fearlessly on with a collection of “designer” outfits chosen to fend off the sub-zero conditions and icy ankles that seemed probable.

Yes indeed, the orange wooly gaiter, a few Sherlock Holmes tweed hats, Barbours and a set of Hunters, we British know how to dress for the cold

Snow angels, snow balls, and snow men made the day and so the walk was gorgeous, however, Annie is not convinced that the landscape would have much to say in the middle of summer.

Annie getting down with the angels

Marching back into Bishop’s Stortford after a fine 10 mile stretcher, good news at last, a tea shop that swept all the prizes and took the top spot in Nicola’s ever changing list of favorites.

Delicious tea rooms - Delicious

With frosty faces and icy toes the Delicious tea shop was more than a welcome sight.  Gunpowder Pearls, Ginger, Earl Grey, Lapsang Souchong….and homemade everything, even the Malteser cake and the Eton Mess cake….wow.

Not an awe inspiring tale of derring do, but perhaps getting up and getting out in spite of the weather and the disruptions put in our way will inspire our next great challenge or perhaps not.  Time for the lakes or some mountains I think.

More motorway madness as Annie navigates her bicycle back up the M2 – ooops

Saturday emerged all murky and grey, so Annie decided that the planned Sole Street to Rochester 12 miler over the Wealden Way and the North Downs was too tame, easily solved by biking 6 miles to the start instead of hitching the train……not wise.  Who knew the Medway was so hilly, who knew that no-one in Rochester (including the taxi drivers) had ever heard of Sole Street.  These facts combined with a genius for navigation led to…… a 20 mile bike ride which included sections of the M2, Annie starting the walk an hour and twenty minutes behind the team sans map, a very hot red face and the realisation that the Five Peaks challenge was going to be tougher than Annie had ever thought.

Ha ha....yes the lower finger was me the upper finger them. Very funny...

The very thoughtful Clair chalked up instructions for the feckless Annie whose 31st phone call had clearly begun to irritate the nature lovers…  the walk took in Luddesdown, Upper and Lower Bush and a few other Medway villages, not amazing views but the ridgeway of the North Downs down to the Medway was pretty neat.

Annie wondered if they had signed the "wrong way" but just for a moment....

Catching up with the gang after a mere three hours I received a bit of a beating…..deserved…we moved swiftly on to Rochester, full of history and contradiction with a Norman castle, a magnificent cathedral, truly excellent tea rooms on one side and then a miserable modern iteration of the worst kind of High Street on the other.

Rochester - a town of contradiction

A solitary walk due to incompetance so not too many stories to recount, however, Rochester is worth a visit and the walk is worth a day of your time especially if you are up for a cruise.  Next stop Annie leads a walk….OMG

Muddy boots swapped for glitter ball earrings and long frocks…for one night only…

Rufus rambled a little less during December and January but with Christmas upon Birthday upon New Year upon Birthday…. the party season has been long, relentless and fun…not quite over but the rambles are back on track regardless…..

Limbering up for the limbo - final party of the season - nope but this dress is staying packed away..

Annie is due to lead a walk in the next few weeks…..oh good Lord….she can barely navigate out of her own drive…so lots of practice has taken place.  First attempt a 9 miler – turned into an 18 miler, second attempt a 10 miler – turned into  a 13 miler….ummmm and so it went on.

A stunning start to the 10 - aka 13 miler

Whilst underfoot was all slip, slide and slither the muddy fields of Kent provided an abundence of outstanding photo ops….not least due to the extra miles tracked…

Eridge and the Old Deer Park showing off winter colours

Pheasants shot just outside Knole Park, glorious not.

Rufus did not do the beating....

The lakes of the Deer Park were stunning, yes another fiasco of navigation but worth the detour.



Week 3 of Christmas shenanigans, ouch…..Annie needed a stride…20 mile Knockholt circular…fabulous

Three weeks of Birthday and Christmas events, Annie’s apparent lack of will power (don’t believe it)  and the mulled wine and mince pie fests starting on Monday meant the glorious blue sky,  frosty fields and threatened snow meant it was time to get togged up for a 20 miler.  Broke Hill golf course bereft of golfers looked stunning with the low winter sun breaking across the bunkers.

A little early for the golfers of Broke Hill

The ground, icy underfoot, flew past at pace, with a skid here and there it was a little faster than planned.  What ho’ wellington boots were these walkers mad, skid-slide-grimace-ouch, ummm Annie was not impressed the wellies were winning the battle and the war. (Not sure about the fashion statement though)…

So much for Meindle, Brasher, Salomon and Wengen...Hunter look alikes won the day

As the pace quickened the snow decided to fall, the ice melted and gave way to mud-glorious-mud, you guessed it the wellies continued to be the choice of the day.  Lilia, no need for footwear, loved the snow if not the need for a lead.

I am a shepherd let me near those sheep....please.

The walk, taking us along the shady side of the North Downs and into Downe, the home of some good pubs, an awesome tea shoppe and the home of Charles Darwin, was filled with significant homes, historical sites and views to boot (titter).

Canary Wharf, the Shard and a City of London vista in the distance....deadly

Downe Village - cute as a bug

A quick stop at The Queen’s Head, roaring fire, pints of Bass and plates of chips, (Rufus if only….) and then Annie realised that her Oakley’s had gone MIA at some point over the last 11 Miles.  OMG would she have to revert to her Ray Bans….life was tough.

On almost the shortest day of the year the final 8 miles were done in 2 hours flat, blimey, the sun reappeared, which did not help the rather feeble snowman, but did help our skidding footsteps.

Not sure I will make it to Christmas

No guide to the full 20 but here is a shortened version that might do the trick.  This walk is about 20 miles from central London, a really quick train journey away, it really is worth a crack, we even saw deer, if not a golfer.

Hot off the press, Sunday morning saw Annie retrack her steps and yippee the sunnies were found.

A week of late nights and motorway madness – 14 miles around Watton-at-Stone – perfect

A combination of Christmas and Birthdays wearing me down the big sun and blue skies forced me to throw off the duvet, give Duncan a buzz, get that train ticket (train….that’s a first…..ah out in London later I assume…) and head off for Watton-at-Stone Hertfordshire, land of Barratt Homes and would be aristos, pheasant anyone?

No I am not a Herdy, this is Hertfordshire not Cumbria, twit...

At last the 09.26 from Kings Cross to Watton-at-Stone, a name fraught with danger for the less gifted (me): Wooton-on-Sutton, Wooton-at-Summer, Walton-at-Sheen….. thank god for iPhones….”hello, hello, any idea where are we going today….”, ah ticket purchased, disaster averted, Annie happy.

WAIT!!! Good grief you lot get a trot on.....really

Walking, walking, all drifting pleasantly into our personal zones, gorgeous …….aaaaaaaaah….. Duncan, WAIT,  a screech so loud, so piercing that the the whole team, crashing out of their reverie, dug heels in tout-de-suite (posh speak as we are in Herts dahling)….funny to watch….harsh to hear, you had to be there…..

Ade, determined to get the early train home, set off at a pace that would make Seb Coe proud, ….Annie was having none of it though, another first, taking snaps with a fellow traveller she got left behind, unbelievable.

Annie's snap, was it worth it? No.

Phone out, calls made, Nicola, Nicola….are you there….Ade, Ade, Ade…..please answer…., ummm not impressed.  Guessing the route we set off at a jog, no less than half an hour later the team hove into view….not even a backward glance.  Nice, thanks chums, not sharing my apples with you ever again.

WAIT......did not seem to work for Annie

Field-after-field, village-after-village, gun-toting-tweedy after gun-toting-tweedy…..what!  It turns out that our walk took us through the land of the hired gun.  Thousands of pheasants flying high in the sky, dropped like stones at our feet, their corpses hung like coats on tractors that flew past, parping as only the very arrogant can.  “Hear, hear, hear”, “mind out-of-the-way dear”, “good grief we have ducks to shoot”, “hrummph hrumph”, were these the rudest people we had ever met?  Yes I can confirm they were, letters would be written to Woodhall Estate, I am not one to shoot but respect others right to do so if they wish, the foul manners of staff and guests was truly shocking.

Downton Abbey's Lady Mary would not have stood for the rudeness and nor will Annie

This is cracking countryside, though I expect the shades and tones of our winter sun made it more beautiful than it really is, a summer walk might be a bit bland.  Next time I walk in Herts I will take my own tweedy jacket with kill pockets, then I can be rude to walkers too….today’s puffa was not quite the ticket…or was it?

Crispy duck anyone?

Party, party, party…recovery needed….Ruth’s Guildford circular with some fine hounds would sort me out

A week of parties meant that Annie was feeling a little jaded so a Diet Coke night was called for to ensure the Sunday circular was undertaken in style, it was to be a 9 miler around Guildford after all and a hung over Annie would not go down well with the ladies that lunch!

3rd party night meant it was a Diet Coke kind of a Saturday...

Rufus, still playing hard to get, had decamped to Scotland so Annie picked up a glorious collection of mutts for a traipse around the apparently “not muddy” trails of Surrey, which were, of course, muddy.  Ruth really!

With sun forecast Annie packed the Raybans and sun cap, ummmm, well there was no sun, but then rain was also forecast, so Annie packed her water proofs, there was no rain. Hey ho.

Striding out of Guildford station armed with harnessed beasts and Costa Capuccinos (£2.00 to park and an M&S) we broke into ….well an amble actually, striding (aka stepping gingerly – hangover..) along the rather “muddy” canal tracks, half of Guildford clad in Lycra seemed to be either mucking about on the river or jogging up and down its treacherous “muddy” banks.

A murky day on the river....

The fantastic weather of the past weeks had left the colours of Autumn everywhere but Maddie found sufficient leaves for a jolly good roll and being a retriever eating a branch here and there was not out of the question.  Rufus would not have stooped so low.

Woof - my mum doesn't feed me so....

Walking up to St Martha’s church, photo was average so you can take a sticky beak at the array of funghi that lined our walk instead, we conquered two moderate inclines, an average bacon sandwich and a few chips…..ah a cafe en route, Ruth had…. at last….. done well….and then we got lost….the map was at fault…..ya right.

Does my bum look big in this?

Any guesses?

This walk was not too challenging but as ever is thoroughly recommended if a 9 mile amble with a few historic sites, a few pit stops and some really great views is what you are looking for.  The start is a bit urban, the hills not too extreme but a pretty little walk indeed and well worth that trip to Guildford.

Monster tough week for Nunan…..respite required…Shropshire, Wiltshire and Cumbria beckoned

2011 continued to bless us with mellow sun and bold blue skies, no excuses let’s go visit pals and places, my muttley friends continue to reject all offers (or snaffle picnics) so Annie and the Polo it is.  First stop Tenbury Wells; Dils, Tinkerbell, Chloe and an Aga, gorgeous.

Tinkerbell was not up for a walk the Aga was far too toasty

Chloe, the most inappropriate name for a mutt bred from Pit Bull, Deer Hound, Grey Hound and other such fierce forebears….very beautiful but doesn’t she know it.

Come on Tinkerbell.

Dils had other fish to fry (literally …. a shoot lunch to which Annie was not invited…the shame), so it was a quick march around the Tenbury Hills and back for coffee and the M6 to Crook / Kendal to visit Ford of Boar’s Rock.

After a few detours around Kendal, a Rioja pick up at the local stores, I made it to dinner with Mo, Clara and Clare.  Lovely.

Saturday arrived with dark clouds, gale force winds and a generally poor demeanour(both me – Rioja – and the weather) oh well.  Mighty Mo, Mountain leader beyond compare thoughtfully asked, “where do you want to walk today Annie….” “Dollywagon Pike would be fantastic”…. smile to myself, another Wainwright to tick off…or so I thought.  “OK let’s go…..we will do Seat Sandal and then Dollywagon but only if the conditions get better….”.  Not happy – not happy at all….I know I was late for supper but really.

Too many prescription drugs in my bod to make this the most joyous ascent but .... loved it when I got there

Boot, shank, shoulder and stride, the rain harsh, the wind fierce, the route was chosen and the summit was there to be taken, no prisoners allowed….ha ha.  Seat Sandal, a steep but small fell was challenging none-the-less.  Ouch the conditions DID NOT improve so no Dolly Wagon….ummmm.  Off to the Red Lion pub in Grasmere to meet some pals then….

Sunday cracked with the wind unleashed, Annie was ready…..for a lie-in.  Mo was having none of it, things-to-do, places-to-go, people-to-meet kind of a day for her.  OK a short sharp one up Scout Scar, one of Wainwright’s outlying fells, and then a race down the Motorway for a swift walk with Beamer.  All good.

I keep saying it but……a great 2011…..whether its the weather…the friends, the landscape or something else entirely it works for me.

Got to love a stout wall

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