After a great home cooked meal on the Saturday night (thanks Victoria) and a few beers down the West End, I was in my borrowed bed by 11pm. Didn’t have the greatest of sleeps (anticipation, trepidation and excitement to blame) and got up to get off at sometime around 5:10 – 5:30am. Said a very quick goodbye to the lady of the house. So I set of walking sometime around 6am and headed for Stuntney. Realised just how heavy my rucksack is and stopped 3 maybe 4 times before I left Ely but fuck it I’m in no rush. Got to Stuntney around 7am I would guess and breakfasted on chocolate digestive’s and water, it was lush! Like many villages around East Anglia it’s not the biggest of places, so I continued on my way to Soham. This was when hell started. Getting the rucksack back on from a bench or a wall is one thing, doing it from the ground is another thing entirely, because I am not as fit as I need to be and still getting used to the weight I try to take frequent rest, but there are not many walls and certainly no benches between Stuntney and Soham so I had to drop the rucksack on the floor just passed the Barway turn off. After taking a break I almost dislocated my thumb trying to get the rucksack back in place. The next few minutes mark my first forray into negative thinking as I thought about giving it up right there!
Evidently I managed to continue on my merry way taking the opportunity to rest on any wall, bench, bt box or street sign I could find, ending with me making a light brunch of chocolate digestive’s outside a picturesque church in Soham. Then off to Fordham and towards Newmarket.
Just outside Fordham on the way to Snailwell I could not move any further near an industrial park and with no handy walls or benches I was forced to drop my rucksack on to the floor lay down and snoozed head on rucksack in the sun. This was sometime round 11am so 5 hours or so since I first set off. Forty winks later and a lot of odd looks from passing motorists as I stumbled around trying to get my rucksack back up, I stumbled on towards Snailwell via a lovely quiet country lane being followed by the cows in the field next to me and listening to the bird song it was bliss. Arriving in Snailwell which is a tiny place boasting a pub by the name of The George and Dragon which luckily for me had just opened it being noon now. I decided to take an hours break here to get out of the sun and the locals were much entertained by my ridiculous idea of walking to Greece (rightly so as it transpires) and they felt it only right to inform me that I could fly there for £40. After an hour I decided to leave and once more entertained them with the fight I had getting the rucksack on eventually it was up and in place and there much to rejoicing. Off to Newmarket I trekked.
On the road to Newmarket (big horse racing town for those who don’t know) in between the many stud farms is a monument to a horse going by the name of Hyperion I think (1930-1960), there is a perfectly heighted rucksack mounting wall here so I took yet another break and updated this very journal, whilst I watered myself and the local wildflowers. It was here that the saying don’t just a book by the cover actually hit home to me for the first real-time. As I was preparing to set off again along came a bloke riding up on a tatty old mountain big and really dodgy home-made tattoo’s, can of White Lighting (strong cheap Cidar) and my immediate thought was here we go. So he came over asking me what I am doing and we got talking about what I was planning to do and he turned out to be a real sound bloke called Keith (full name withheld) offered me a safe place to lay up for the night and gave me his address and phone number should I need it. I declined the offer simply because I planned to be well past Newmarket before stopping for the night, we said our farewell’s and I set off again.
It later transpired that I would finish my first day in a totally different place than I had originally planned. My original plan was to wild camp in a wood a couple of KM past Ashley. By the time I got to Ashley I was pretty dead on my feet, it was about 6pm so I had been on the go for about 12 hours or so. I went past the village pub except to acknowledge the local who shouted encouragement and resisted the urge to ask about the B&B rooms advertised and pushed on into the countryside. As I was approaching what was my planned wild camping wood a white van passed me. I rounded a corner in sight of what was to be my nights abode and the van was parked by the side of the road. There seemed to be no reason for it to stop in that spot other than for something to do with the woods, which are full of deer and private property so I wondered if it was waiting to see what I had planned (just be looking at me you could see I was virtually dead on my feet). When I got about 20-30 metres passed the van I heard it’s door open and close so I stopped to get a breather and glanced behind me and the driver of the van an older bloke around 50-55 at a guess was standing next to the van staring at me. I pegged him as one of 3 possible things Gamekeeper (remember the deer in the wood), Land Owner or a poacher either way presumably he had a shotgun and did not seem to like my presence.
My world fell apart I had been driving myself on with the promise of stopping for the night soon, I feel in to despair, dog tired, hungry I pushed myself to keep walking. Every step like hell. In desperation and without any real forethought I put my thumb out as I heard cars approaching, the first one ignored me and carried on, the second one was my contained my saviours, driven by Ant with his girlfriend Tannine and a very boisterous spaniel called Teide. They offered me a light and put my rucksack in the boot, when they asked where I was going I had no idea but I did know I was on the road to Clare so I just blurted that out. It just so happened that they lived just outside Clare and knew it well even suggesting some good quiet spots I could bed down in. So whilst Tiede snuggled in my lap and we sped down the road to Clare I told them my stupid idea as it turns out Tannine’s dad does survival training with cadets in Sweden, now there is a bloke worth knowing! So Ant and Tannine where into the idea and very encouraging even dropping in the car park next to where they thought I would be safe to camp up. Although my legs did not work when I got out of the car somehow I managed to get my rucksack out of the boot and on to my back and stumbled away. (If your reading this Ant and Tannine, Thank you so very much I might have given up right then if you had not stopped).
After stumbling around a park in Clare I found a nice secluded spot to pitch my tent for the first time ever, unrolled my sleeping bag at the last of the chocolate digestive’s, recharged my iPhone (which is also my map) which was almost out of battery and passed out to the sound of bird song in the late evening. It was a fitful sleep and I remember waking up and it being pitch black and just loving that.
Things I learnt on my first day:
- My rucksack/pack is fuck heavy!
- I have enough willpower to push the miles.
- Don’t judge a book by the cover.
- Be thankful of the generosity of strangers.
- Blisters hurt.
- My feet STINK!