Dulwich to Dunwich

Cycled from: East Dulwich, London

Cycled to: Dunwich, Suffolk Coast

Distance: 125 miles (ish)

When: 16-17 July 2022

Are we there yet…?

While you were sleeping last weekend, I was one of thousands of people who voluntarily swapped a night of rest for one turning pedals in a cycle ride that, eventually, would take us almost 120 miles, from the heart of London to the Suffolk coast.

First stop of the night, 23 miles after leaving Hackney

This act of collective, glorious madness is committed once a year, on the weekend in July that falls closest to the full moon, and goes by the name of the Dunwich Dynamo. I first rode it in 2009, then every few years since. Last weekend was my fifth ‘Dun Run’, and the second time I completed it on my bright red, Pashley Britania (for those not familiar with the bike, it weighs a hefty 16.5kg, allegedly has five gears although I can only ever get three to work, and has a wicker basket at the front to store all your stuff in. It’s the cycling equivalent of riding a tank).

Needham Lake. 30 or so miles to go.

When I rode ‘Florence’ (yes, that’s her name) to Dunwich in 2019, I didn’t get much attention. Perhaps people just did not compute that the woman in the summer dress and sandals was riding through the night with them to the seaside. Perhaps people were more self-absorbed before the pandemic. Perhaps I just look older and less fit now and people felt sorry for me. Whatever the reason, something shifted this year; Florence and I attracted a lot of attention, all of it wholly supportive. For a start, this time (many) people actually asked me if I was doing the ride, something I cheerily confirmed each time, although there was increasingly bravado in my tone as my knees began to protest at the unaccustomed cycling exercise. When I finally (13.5 hours after I set off) arrived at Dunwich beach a number of people sought me out to take a photo of me and my bike: they saw what I’d done as an ace of lunacy to be celebrated. And when hundreds of us were dropped off back in London (us conveyed by coach, the bikes in removal vans), I got a huge round of applause from my fellow ‘night riders’ as I cycled away. It was very kind of them, but reader, as soon as I was around the corner, I got off that bike and pushed it the final 2.5 miles home.

Dunwich beach

The point of this blog post isn’t about my personal levels of (in)sanity though. It’s that you don’t need to be a Tour de France wannabe, 50 per cent Lycra, 50 per cent eye wateringly expensive carbon fibre road bike, to join in the beautiful madness of Dunwich Dynamo. You just need a bike, any old bike, and if you keep pushing those pedals, you will, eventually, get to the sea.

The driver and I were the only people who didn’t sleep on the coach back…
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Wayfarers Walk, Day 3

Walked from: Soberton, Hampshire

Walked to: Emsworth Harbour, Hampshire

Distance: 19 miles

Total distance walked: 70.1 miles

When: 4 June 2022

Damp fields near Soberton, at the start of my day

Threats of a soggy, stormy walking day proved unfounded – the rain passed through during the night, and by late morning it was unexpectedly hot and sunny. Truth be told though, I knew the best of the walk was behind me – seven miles or so into my hiking day, I entered the familiar territory of the very south east of Hampshire. A built-up place, I left behind the rolling hills that accompanied me from Soberton to Denmead, and hit the suburban sprawl that starts at Widley and goes all the way down to Langston Harbour, with just a bit of scrubby land at the side of the A27 to break up the concrete.

Hambledon, usually best known for being the home of cricket

I started the day in my waterproof trousers, knowing how wet the fields and hedgerows would be after a night of rain. It was the right call, but by late morning it had dried out and the unexpectedly hot, if slightly windy weather took an increasingly tired me through the area I grew up in. On I went, past the signs for the college where I studied my A-levels in the early 90s, past the road I lived on until I was nine… none of it picturesque, all of it too familiar, I didn’t have the interest of anything new to keep me entertained.

Flower-filled fields near Denmead

Still, the last stretch of the walk, along Chichester Harbour to Emsworth, is very pretty, and it helped speed me along the final few miles, where my mum arrived to collect me at the same time as I reached the most glamorous of long distance hiking end points… the supermarket car park where we’d arranged to meet. And while much of the final 10 miles or so of the Wayfarers Way isn’t much to write home about, at least not as far as this ex-local is concerned, overall the walk was excellent: lovely countryside, some spectacular dawns and dusks, good weather and catching up with old friends – all wrapped up in the red, white and blue of a country revelling in a rare, four day Jubilee weekend. Memorable – and for all the right reasons.

Chichester Harbour at high tide (it’s prettier at low tide BTW)
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Wayfarers Walk, Day 2

Walked from: New Alresford, Hampshire

Walked to: Soberton, Hampshire

Distance: 18.3 miles

Total distance walked: 51.1 miles

When: 3 June 2022

Tent views at their early morning best

I woke up at 4.30am, roused by the light outside. Sticking my sleepy, under-rested head outside the tent, I was rewarded with a beautiful dawn – I’d ended up finding the perfect wild camping spot last night, east-facing with a conveniently located log to sit on while eating my first breakfast and admiring the view.

New Alresford – the Welsh rebellion at Jubilee!

Within the hour I’d arrived in New Alresford, an attractive market town where the houses were in all out competition to dress themselves for the Jubilee celebrations. I particularly enjoyed the property bedecked in the Welsh flag, which is a favourite of mine: perhaps it’s my Celtic side (Jones on my maternal grandmother’s side, as well as Irish from maternal grandfather), coming out? On my way in, I passed the watercress filled River Alre, renowned in a not so distance era for the quality of its eels – a dish I have no difficulty in passing over.

The Alre river at New Alresford

By 8am, I was six miles in to my walking day, chilling on a bench in the graveyard of the church in Cheriton and enjoying a second breakfast. Parts of the building date back to the 12th century, but that morning the locals were preparing to run a Ethernet cable into it so people could watch the Jubilee service from Westminster Abbey on live stream. Anyway, I had an hour to relax before meeting my friend Charlotte: as teenagers we roamed our local area on bikes, and now we were meeting up to walk the 12 miles to her parent’s house in Soberton, a village the Wayfarers Walk has the good sense to run straight through.

Jubilee bouquet left on a gravestone at the church in Cheriton

Charlotte and Banjo, aka best dog in the world, were dropped off on the dot of 9am and we spent the next six hours exploring the fields and country lanes of the South Downs National Park, and (as Banjo discovered to his cost) the ticked-filled undergrowth of a poorly maintained footpath across Corhampton Golf Club. It was an unexpectedly hot and sunny day and the three of us got through the four litres of water that Charlotte showed up with without any difficulty. Still, the scenery, mainly wheat, barley and broad bean filled fields, was very pretty, and the shadier rest spots welcome. Betty Munday’s Bottom, a place name I’d seen on the map and looked forward to walking past, was a disappointingly scrubby piece of land, and the nearby excavation of the land to lay down new pipes to carry aviation fuel from Southampton to Heathrow Airport brought a note of (hopefully soon to be hidden away again) discord to the landscape.

The pipeline being laid down in South Downs National Park

After two nights of limited sleep and the tiring effect of walking in heat, it was a relief to get to Droxford, a village in full Jubilee-fete prep, knowing we were very close to Soberton. A final walk across the fields and a country lane took us to the wonderfully situated house where Charlotte’s parents, Jane and David, live. It was a lovely place to spend the night, a feeling enhanced by the fact that heavy rain sounds a lot better when not heard from a tent. I also had what was possibly the best pie in the world at the local pub, the White Lion, and disappointed David by failing to turn up in the walking boots I ‘borrowed’ from him in 1991 so I could take part in the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme. I’m grateful, if embarrassed by the state those boots ended up in – the camping, walking and map reading skills I learnt in those two years set me up for my cross-country tramps I’m so fond of now.

Banjo. SUCH a good boy…
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Wayfarers Walk, Day 1

Walked from: Inkpen Beacon, West Berkshire

Walked to: New Alresford, Hampshire

Distance: 27.3 miles

Total Distance of route: 32.8 miles

When: 1/2 June 2022

Maps: OS App and Hampshire County Council website

Lower Woodcott Down at dawn

Today’s memorable walk through beautiful north Hampshire started at 5am, as the sun rose, and finished close to 10pm, as the last of the light faded from the sky. Wild camping has many rewards, not least being able to wake up to stunning views and, in today’s case, a wonderful dawn sky, but the stealthiness it requires means your departure and arrival times are inextricably linked with the sun – and in June, there’s a hell of a lot of daylight.

How I started my day

Yesterday evening’s after work 5.5 miles seems too short to merit its own blogpost, but the expansive views along the chalk escarpment took me to today’s starting point, on a hill overlooking the Highclere estate – its principle building, Highclere Castle, better known to millions as Downton Abbey. Two hours of rolling, beautifully lit, early morning countryside later, including a lumpy, bumpy hilltop site that, 3,000 or so years ago was the location of an iron age fort, and I stopped to eat my breakfast on another famed spot – Watership Down. Best known for rabbits, and a film I chiefly remember as being a traumatic watch as a child, it’s host to gallops for race horses, the topiary of the jumps cut into cubes that are a striking, if discordant addition to the local landscape.

Racehorse topiary chic, Watership Down

As I came off the chalk downs, I passed through fields filled with barley and wheat, walking through the edge of Steventon, the birthplace of Jane Austen. For a time my route shared that of the Camino Inglés, a revived ancient pilgrimage route that ultimately (once the English Channel has been tackled) ends up at Santiago de Compostela in Spain. 17 miles or so into my day, I arrived in the pretty village of Dummer for lunch at the Queen Inn, where the lemonade was cold, the food good, and the locals friendly. It would also be the first of a number of bunting-filled places on my hike, for I’m out exploring on the same four day weekend as the country marks the 70 year reign of the Queen: right now, the English countryside is red, white and blue, as well as its usual verdant green.

Jubilee postbox topper, Dummer

Other, more typical, countryside scenarios I encountered today included a good number of deer, a game of cricket, the players dressed in their traditional whites, on the village green at Brown Candover, and, less thrillingly, a group of obnoxious inheritance fund kidults whose braying forced me out of the pub at Totford. That last, undesirable encounter with the local wildlife was luckily counterbalanced, a few hours later, by my first ever sighting of a (alive) badger, out for a sunset stroll. In all, a day of utterly gorgeous walking that made for an excellent first full day of my adventure.

New take on a treehouse, near Abbotstone Down

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My new walk… across Britain!

Dear follower of my blog

I’m starting a new walk today – one which will take me from the far north east of the British mainland to the far south west. Known as the Lands End to John O’Groats challenge (although I’ll be walking in the other direction) it’s one tackled by hundreds of cyclists and a handful of crazy walkers every year. 

I have set up a new blog for my walk. It would be wonderful if you could sign up to follow my adventure here https://explorebritainonfoot.wordpress.com/

Here’s to a new adventure!

Silka x

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Camino Primitivo, Day 13

Walked from: Pedrouzo

Walked to: Santiago de Compostela

Distance: 19km

When: 24 October 2019

My day started early. After lying in my bunk, unable to sleep as the small room’s two champion snorers duked it out for pole position, I dragged myself out of bed at 5am to catch up on the previous two days blogs. But I wasn’t feeling tired – I had the familiar buzz of energy and anticipation that surges through me on the final day of a long walk.

Daylight arrives late in the northwest of Spain at this time of year; setting off at 7am, our small – but perfectly formed – group walked for the first two hours in the dark on seasonally spooky forest paths. It was raining. We could see bugger all. It should, to be honest, if not eloquent, have been a bit shit. But as I listened to my friends, people I didn’t even know existed at the beginning of this Camino journey, chat (sometimes quickly to one another, sometimes slowly, with the thought that comes into picking words the English woman with crap Spanish might understand) and sing, I walked with the same big smile I’ve had on my face for the past 13 days.

Ten kilometres in we paused for breakfast, the rain falling ever heavier outside, before arriving into Santiago’s old town at noon. Soaked, the five of us (Nilda, Pepe, Esteban and Florentino) who had walked in together were joined for the final kilometre by Sumjio and Thomas, who had arrived in sunshine the day before but braved the rain to join us. I’d met them all for the first time just thirteen days before, when we’d spent the night at the wonderfully hospitable albergue in Villapañada on the first day of my Camino. As the days progressed, we had came together and left each other behind at different points, but they have all come to be special to me, and it was an absolute pleasure to arrive at the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela in their company. As we reached the main Plaza, Thomas, a lovely German man with a beautiful smile and an excellent line in hugs, who speaks neither English nor Spanish, gleefully produced a bottle of Kas Limon from his pocket – a present for this lemonade-loving hiker. He’d been carrying it around with him for two days, awaiting my arrival. The thought that went into that gesture, the fact that he knew me well enough to do that despite us not being able to talk to one another, summed up the spirit of the Camino for me in one 500ml plastic bottle. My eyes might have been a bit wet. I blame the rain.

A quick visit to the Pilgrim Office to collect our completion certificates (my third one now) was followed by a looooooong, hot shower. And food. And drink. Then later, more drink. It had been an early morning and while I won’t bore you with the details of the party we had, or of my mild hangover the next day, I can assure you it was also a very late (but very fun) night!

This is the third time I’ve walked to Santiago de Compostela, and each has been special, but for me this one has been the most authentically Spanish. I’ve explored beautiful places, had conversations with interesting, different people who have really made me think about the rest of my life and how I want to live it. I’ve eaten a lot of bread and drunk a lot of wine, when I had some foolish idea in my head that I would do neither. And, quite frankly, I have laughed my arse off. Best. Holiday. Ever. Thank you for reading. And Buen Camino.

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Camino Primitivo, Day 12

Camino Primitivo, Day 12

Walked from: Melide

Walked to: Pedrouzo

Distance: 33km

When: 23 October 2019

The mission today was about one thing and one thing only – to eat up as many of the 52kms that stood between me and Santiago de Compostela as possible while the weather remained fine (for tomorrow an old friend on this Camino, pissing down rain, is due to join us for the final approach. It’s one Camino reunion I could do without).

I’ll admit I was a little jaded as I set off this morning. Despite a good night’s sleep, Florentino and I enjoyed a variety of alcoholic beverages in Melide last night, including an excellent bottle of red called Ramon Bilbõa, and I think the huge Spanish-sized serving of gin and tonic that I had as my night cap may have pushed me over the edge towards mild hangover territory.

Undeterred, we headed off towards Pedrouzo, the Camino undulating it’s way through largely pretty but fairly unremarkable landscape – the wild beauty and mountains of Asturias are now far behind, and there was some criss-crossing of busier roads today. I was also treading familiar ground, as the final 52km of the walk to Santiago follow the main Camino Frances walk. As I passed through the small villages and hamlets, I had flashbacks to this time two years ago, when I was in the midst of completing my month long walk from the very south of France. Except this time I managed not to go the wrong way on the approach to Pedrouzo, for which I am most grateful. Clothes washed, stomach fed, and happily reunited with the three friends from the Canary Islands who I met on the first night of this walk, I’m all set for the final 19km to Santiago’s beautiful cathedral tomorrow.

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Camino Primitivo, Day 11

Walked from: Ferreira

Walked to: Melide

Distance: 21.7km

When: 22 October 2019

The Camino Primitivo meets with its famous sibling, the Camino Frances (which is what most people think of, if they do at all, when they talk about the Camino de Santiago), in Melide. For many of my fellow ‘perigriños’ this was a source of some consternation – concerns about there being too many people, and about potential issues with getting accommodation were rife. A lot of people walked on, not wanting to stay in town.

Not me though – I’ve been more focused on getting to Melide, a pretty underwhelming mid-sized town – on this trip than I have on arriving at Santiago. My reason is excellent; I’ve developed a love of razor clams in my past walks in Galicia, and there’s a pulperia (octopus restaurant) in Melide that I was determined to get to today. I am pleased to report that I wasn’t disappointed with my experience. The octopus was also excellent. Happy days on the Camino… as I think the particularly sophisticated photo of me below makes plain…

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Camino Primitivo, Day 10

Walked from: Lugo

Walked to: Ferreira

Distance: 22.4

When: 21 October 2019

(Image: Helen and Florentino)

The landscape I’m walking through has changed. It’s less mountainous, less wild – in fact, much of today looked a lot like the Yorkshire Dales, but with more woodland paths. And a lot more chorizo.

(Image: the 18th century church at SAN Vincente del Burgo)

But today wasn’t really about the landscape – it was a social day, and it was definitely about the people: the locals I encountered on the way (including a tiny 90 year old lady with the most beautiful smile, who was out collecting chestnuts) and those walking their caminos, wherever they started. And some people started theirs many months ago, like the Austrian man I had breakfast with this morning (my first churros con chocolate of the trip, to give me the sugar rush I needed after a dorm room night that included some of the most exceptional snoring I’ve ever had the misfortune to experience in my life) who has walked all the way from Vienna. Four months into his walk, he’s within days of finishing. Pretty bloody impressive.

(Image: the bar in Taboeiro – loved its old school look)

I walked all day with Florentino, one of the happiest, largest-hearted people I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. I first made his acquaintance about 22km in on our first day on the Camino, heading towards a welcoming hostel with stunning views where I subsequently got bitten by fleas (the itching has gone but I still have some pretty unattractive marks on my arms). We finally met back up again yesterday, and he happily talked to me, and our brand new Camino friend, Helen, another English woman, all day in Spanish, despite our mangling of his beautiful language. And when he wasn’t talking, he was singing – Florentino is a human jukebox, with a fine voice and an excellent line in 80s and 90s rock, which suits this fellow 70s baby very well. The kilometres passed, the evening came, and with it a few celebratory drinks with another Camino friend we’ve caught back up with – the lovely Rosa, who celebrated her 23 birthday today. There were many renditions of Happy Birthday, in a number of languages. And there was no rain today… it was an excellent day on the Camino.

(Imagine: Florentino and the chestnut collector)

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Camino Primitivo, Day 9

Walked from: Castroverde

Walked to: Lugo

Distance: 22km

When: 20 October 2019

I had an entirely inappropriate fit of the giggles this afternoon in the cathedral in Lugo; I suspect the half a bottle of red wine and the liquor chaser I had as part of my late lunch may have had something to do with it. I was in the Chapel of Our Lady of the Big Eyes, and it immediately triggered a memory of a stupid 1980s TV programme in the UK, with its constant references to the picture of Madonna with the Big Bobbies. Highly immature, a quintessentially English reference and, as I said, brought on by afternoon drinking. That aside, Lugo Cathedral is quite lovely – I recommend a visit if you happen to be in the area, even if the colour scheme of the upstairs museum reminds me of a bar I used to frequent in west London in the late 90s.

Today was a good day. A couple of minutes aside, it didn’t rain on today’s walk, although I donned preventative waterproofs for the first part of the morning. I met a new Camino friend, Aurelio, as I was leaving Castroverde, and walked all the way to Lugo with him, treading beautiful forest paths, and passing a 500 year old church and a couple of awfully old – and very big – chestnut trees. Today’s itinerary included a delightful, and entirely unexpected, cake/hot chocolate stop along the way at Vilar, where the albergue owners couldn’t have been more welcoming; if only I had known it existed yesterday, I would have walked the extra five kilometres from Castroverde to spend the day in their beautiful farmhouse.

On the final approach to the old town in Lugo, where I am staying in a hostel that has communal showers (shudder) I passed a sign telling me I only have 100km left to walk to Santiago. I’m practically at the bar crawl part of my trip. Even better, it turns out that a lot of people I met on my first night in the Camino are in Lugo tonight, and are walking tomorrow. It’s shaping up for quite a fiesta in Santiago on Friday night!

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