2. Making it happen – and an unsung hero.
Before I put boot to path, an awful lot of time and effort went into organising the project. To start with, I established a few guiding principles;
- I would walk every one of the 633 miles. Even where there was an obvious short cut I never cheated, even when there was no-one looking. Obsessive, or what?
- I wouldn’t stint myself on accommodation. I decided that the walk would be tough enough without “roughing it”. Some SWCP walkers back-pack, but I decided I was too old and too fond of my creature comforts for that. Anyway, this was supposed to be fun.
- As a subsidiary “challenge”, I would see how many different real ales I could sup. I was aware that this challenge might hospitalise me before the walking one did, but decided that as I was not on an SAS endurance march I should enjoy it as much as possible-and for me enjoyment has always been closely correlated with beer drinking. Friends initially confused my “Real Ale Challenge” with an attempt to see how much I could get down my neck in 51 days of walking, not understanding that it was about the number of different pints that I could sink. An understandable mistake though, given my love of fine ale and preference for “eat as much as you can” buffets. In fact, I know it’s normally “eat as much as you like”, but my partner, Pat claims I misinterpret the adverts deliberately as an invitation to fill my boots. For fellow beer lovers I’ve listed and ranked in Appendix 4 the 54 different ales I managed to drink. It was a tough job, but someone had to do it.
- I would have a rest day every week or so. To do otherwise is to invite trouble – as was evident from the several fatigued, “walking wounded” I met who had not allowed sufficient time-out. Of course, there are those who complete the course far faster than I did, but many of these have a military or ultra- marathon background. I take my hat off to them, but I know my limits.
My principal resource for planning was the excellent SWCP Association web site, which provides a wealth of information on distances, accommodation and links to other useful resources. It really does motivate you to get your boots on and I strongly recommend it. Click here to access all the information you’ll need.
There is a wide choice of accommodation on offer. St Austell Brewery had been recommended for the Cornish stage and their pubs did provide a consistently high standard of service in some lovely harbour-side inns: sadly, St Austell didn’t have a pub in every stop-over, so I had to mix pubs with traditional bed and breakfasts, but always giving priority to pubs.
Assuming that I would almost certainly encounter inclement weather during the walk, I decided that B&Bs advertising drying rooms and “walkers welcome” would be my best bet. In the event I could count the wet days on one hand, a quite remarkable statistic in this corner of Britain, reflecting one of the driest springs since records began.
Some B&Bs had good websites, where you could book on-line, but I had to phone others several times before getting a response. I spent a few weeks ringing around and it was only two weeks before the “off” that I finally had the whole trip covered. Even then, there was panic the week before the start when a couple of my booked B&Bs got in touch to say they could no longer accommodate me, although they did recommend good alternatives. Some B&Bs required deposits, others didn’t, so it was important to keep a record of what I had paid or still owed for the 40 odd nights that I slept in a strange bed.
Overall, it was like planning a military operation and I would advise anyone doing the walk to allow far more time than they ever imagine they will need for sorting out accommodation.
My then partner, Pat, accompanied me at weekends on this barmy long-distance ramble and I cannot adequately express my gratitude for all the help she gave me in supporting my mad endeavour. Even more astonishing is that – despite such clear evidence of instability – she still married me in 2012.
Pat spent a long time researching public transport for when she joined me at weekends. We tried to arrange things so that we could carry light rucksacks where possible. The “Traveline” website proved to be an invaluable resource, with only one minor blip on the weekend that the spring timetable changed: but the information on the website didn’t. Pat ended up having to wait a little longer than expected, but was not greatly inconvenienced.
Anyway, enough sentimentality – time to get walking!