It’s my birthday! And that being the case I had decided at the beginning of last week to take the day off work in order to do precisely nothing. (Not often I get to do that!) As it turns out it was a very wise decision as 42 miles of walking the Thames Path this weekend has rendered me just about able to shuffle to the kitchen and back for cups of tea. My day has so far been divided between laying in bed with my blistered, swollen feet propped up on pillows and sitting on the sofa with my blistered, swollen feet propped up on pillows… oh, apart from the hour I spent with my feet in the foot spa!
Not the liveliest of birthdays (especially after last year’s pub and club antics) but certainly a welcome rest. And it was lovely waking up with a kiss and smile from my gorgeous man. Darren is working from home today (and can you believe he actually works? Who does that?) so I do have some company. We plan to spend our evening camped on the sofa (there is a real danger of me taking root) watching the last four episodes of Game of Thrones: Season 1 before the 9pm premier of Season 2. Oh and we will eat curry and drink beer!
So what got my feet in this state? A really fun weekend of walking from Oxford to Reading. Fun? Am I mental? Yes and, um, yes! 🙂 I can honestly say I haven’t laughed and smiled so much over a weekend in a long time and (more importantly) my mind didn’t wander to anything depressing and the dark clouds stayed firmly out of view!
The idea of walking the Thames Path is one we have flirted with for a while now… all 184 miles of it! Not having endless days to take off work, this adventure was always going to be completed in sections and over a period of months/years when free weekends cropped up. With a couple of 26-mile charity walks coming up in the summer, and contemplating the London to Brighton walk in June (now sensibly abandoned for this year), the Thames Path seemed like a ideal training ground and Oxford an easy-to-reach starting point.
We kicked the weekend off with a trip into London on Friday night to see Michael McIntyre’s Work in Progress show at the Leicester Square threatre. Bloody funny, especially when his trousers ripped during a gag. I can honestly say there isn’t another comedian that has me howling with laughter like he does! Brilliant.
Saturday morning we sprung out of bed early (okay, rolled out of bed after a late night), strapped on our boots, pulled on our fully-loaded packs and headed for Twyford train station. Breakfast was bread pudding made the day before and consumed on the train. Forty-five minutes or so later we arrived in Oxford and our journey began. It was a cloudy day (as the weather man had predicted) but not too cold and most importantly not raining. Darren and I were immediately snapping away with our cameras at the stunning scenery of the River Thames (between us we took over 350 photos over the next two days – a selection of which will be edited and posted on my photos page very soon). The first couple of miles was along a well trodden route through Oxford, which had its perils (and for Darren, annoyances) in the form of cyclists. I never have understood why cyclists can’t ring their damn bells when they’re approaching rather than opting for the run-you-off-the-road-at-the-last-minute approach! But it wasn’t long before we were away from civilisation and into the open countryside… me, my man and the river. Peaceful, stunning and above all enjoyable. What could be better?
We made it to Abingdon (just shy of 10 miles into the day’s 23.5 mile journey) before our stomach’s got the better of us and we paused for lunch. It was around this time that I realised my luck had run out. In almost a year of seriously walking I had got away with no more than a superficial blister on the side of my big toe and some aching muscles… not today. Those first 10 miles had left me with blisters on the balls of my feet and little toes, and they hurt! After lunch I pulled off my socks to survey the damage and dress my feet. It wasn’t a pretty sight but it wasn’t going to stop me, so back on went the socks and boots, down the hatch went some pills and on we went.
I can’t recall at exactly what point things got really painful, I just remember Darren practically ordering me to start using a walking pole. A couple of weeks ago we had joined two fellow nutters (I mean walkers) for the final 10 miles of their charity walk from Buckingham Palace to Reading’s Madejski Stadium; Janine (one of said nutters, erm walkers) was suffering with blisters and opted for slow jogging to relieve the pressure. It seemed to work so I threw caution to the wind and gave it a go… it works! I jogged around 3km before one of blisters popped. Ouchy.
And then came the tourettes… Anyone who knows me well enough will know that I don’t generally hold back on the expletives when they’re needed, and boy did I need them! Every single step felt like someone was driving needles into the bottom of my feet, and my left shin had cramped up completely owing to my limp, and as a result came a constant string of every rude word I could summon. Darren was in fits, and the more he laughed, the more I laughed, which made me stumble and cry out in pain and swear again…
Laugh? Yes, I was still laughing. Totally madly, I was having a blast and I was utterly determined to make it to the hotel in Wallingford. About three miles out of Wallingford I started using both walking poles, and singing. Yep, singing. I sang every nonsense children’s rhyme I could think of… “10 Green Bottles”, “Oh Dear, What Can the Matter Be?”, “10 in the Bed” and on and on – again to Darren’s amusement. With Wallingford in sight I dug deep and opted for “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” (the West Ham theme tune that my Dad used to sing to me as a nipper) and then we were there: The George Hotel. Never have I been so happy to see a bed.
The next hour was spent chilling out on the bed, before I shuffled to the bathroom and sank into a bath (painfully removing plasters and popping blisters). Darren, bless him, pulled his boots back on and headed off to find Waitrose to buy more plasters and supplies for the next day. He was hobbling having suffered from mystery cramps in his left calf all afternoon, which had in turn affected his knee and hip (unusually his feet had survived pretty much unscathed – lucky bugger!). But off he went and came back with sandwiches and pies for Sunday’s lunch and some much needed Nurofen!
Both cleaned up, we hobbled downstairs in our socks (me because I couldn’t contemplate shoes, Darren because he didn’t want me to be the only one looking odd) to the bar, where we drank beer and consumed fish and chips. Yummy! And then it was off to bed for much needed sleep.
Despite Darren’s constant reassurance that we could stop at any town and find the nearest station, I was determined to get back to Reading under my own steam. My drug cocktail of choice (Nurofen and Soluble Panadol taken in turn every 2 hours) would see me through – and they did. It wasn’t always easy (hate the feeling of blisters popping under the pressure of steps) but I put one foot in front of the other and made my way from Wallingford to Reading. It was a cracking day; blue sky, bright sun reflecting off the river and the best company. Darren really suffered with the cramps and resultant knee and hip pains and my feet continued to scream at me, but we laughed, chatted and snapped our way through the day.
We stopped for lunch at Goring (just under half way through the 18 mile day), again just outside Pangbourne for a pint (of orange and lemonade) at the Greyhound Pub and then at Mapledurham Lock for an ice cream (no flakes, damn it). It wasn’t until we hit Tilehurst and a really nasty bit of stoney path that we both went quiet and the laughs dried up. Thankfully we were inside Reading’s borders and we could see the town centre in the distance. Heads down, expletives flying, we pressed on for Reading Bridge (our official end point).
We arrived at around 6.30pm, 8.5 hours after leaving Wallingford. We had done it, we had walked from Oxford back to Reading. We hurt but what an achievement and what a fabulous experience together.
We hobbled to the station, fell into a cab and headed for home. A bath and Domino’s later it was time for bed. Sore but happy!
So here I am, feet up, on the sofa typing away. As soon as I’ve published this we’re cracking on with Game of Thrones. And if I’m a really lucky birthday girl, a nice cuddle from the love of my life (all good things come to those who wait).