A Travellerspoint blog

50km March from Hell

Walking for charity still hurts a lot!

all seasons in one day 18 °C

Saturday, 6 June, 8.20am. It’s been tipping down with rain and is now just chilly, grey and dismal. And for some reason this is terrific good news!

For a start its not raining. Next thing it’s not boiling hot. Let’s face facts, when you have 10 hours or more of hard walking ahead of you rain or sun are not going to be your priority. So the 6 of us set off in naive jubilance thinking nothing of knocking out 50km in one day. Intrepid explorers on the go!IMG_0049.jpg

It took us 3 hours to get through the first 3 check points and that was with a wrong turn added in so things were looking quite reasonable for our 10 hour target. And then the blisters started to kick in. Debbie had already had a problem with her shoes and had changed them but the damage had been begun. Harry’s hips and feet had been tender since check point 2 but he was holding up. Matt, Aja and Martin were all apparently fine. So we all vas'ed up the soft tender pink bits of our feet, re-socked and headed out for check points 4, then the A4 and check point 5. Still naive but less jubilant.

Sometime around check point 3 the sun had come out but fortunately the walk took everyone through lovely tree lined paths and fields for much of the hottest part of the day. The 15 other teams were well spread out and while we did walk a lot of the course with the same 3 or so groups there were also many times where we very much felt that we were on our own.

The course went from good old fen style flat land (or there abouts) to much more hilly, undulating, horse fenced and cute village dotted vistas after the A14 and for a short while we all got a second wind as we felt we were so much closer to the finish line but after another 4 hours of walking the joys and jubilation had worn down to grit and determination to just keep going until it was all over. The team was awesome (quite literally - Team Awesome) and Martin turned out to be the b**tard love child of a sherpa and a mountain goat - carrying the injured’s backpacks, ducking back to collect the stragglers then zooming past us all to be in lead encouraging us on. Matt was the pace setter extraordinaire - keeping up a pretty consistent 16.5 mins/mile for almost the whole walk. Harry, Aja, Debbie and I just plugged along encouraging those behind and pushing those in front and taking turns leading or straggling.

Finally - 11 hours after starting (7.20pm) and after 9hours and 27 minutes of walking we struggled across the finish line at a pub in Burrough Green where we were clapped and cheered by both hale and hearty non-walkers and the limping survivors of the teams who had set off before us. It was a huge feeling of relief and there was a general agreement that we'd probably never volunteer to do that again but we had not only walked a total of 300km as a team but raised nearly £2500 for the Papworth Trust (if you want to donate see www.justgiving.com/nwbrown) and also got the grossest most hideous blood blisters and strains just to prove, at work on Monday, that we hadn't been kidding when we had harassed everyone for donations.IMG_0057.jpg

The Suffolk/Cambridgeshire countryside really is lovely. I don't remember much of it because I was either crazed with pain or just had my head down watching every step (turns out I can stub my toe on seemingly flat sealed tarmac at a moments in-attention) but the glimpses every dozen steps or so showed that we have some of the most lovely countryside to explore just down the road. I bet it would be lovely to explore on horse back...

Posted by TravelMc 08:55 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

Wedding travel

Now I'm not talking about honeymoons here!

sunny

2008 feels like the international year of the wedding! Obviously I've reached 'that age' where it seems everyone I know is getting married. This year - by the bank holiday weekend - I will have been to 5 weddings! Heres my top three so far though!

The first wedding was my lovely cousin Becky's. She and Gareth were married on a point overlooking Matakana Island on the Bay of Plenty. A gorgeous day and sucha wonderful time of year to be in NZ. My grandmother and I took the photos and my Uncle Rob did the video so it was a busy day. I flew in the day before so was a bit spacey (brain somewhere over Hong Kong at the time!) but it was superb. Weddings are such a great way to catch up with a lot of people in a really wonderful atmosphere! The Bride was stunning and the groom was suave. The weather fantastic and my grandparents were wonderful hosts to the entire wedding party - ensuring no matter what weather they had on the day they were going to have a wonderful wedding.

Second wedding - Much Marcle for Helen and Tom! Helen is a fellow rower and the powerhouse of my four. Until Tom swept her off her feet to Hong Kong! Fortunately his intentions were honourable and the happy couple were wed in the most gorgeous little chapel on a country estate. They picked May as their month, timing things so well the fields across the area were a brilliant yellow from oil rape seed crops - a vibrant yellow that just lights the countryside of England right up! Much Marcle is teeny tiny but Holme House and the chapel were superb. If you're looking for a wedding site in the UK I think I'd highly recommend this one! We had a superb day with great thanks to the bride adn groom and their families for the power of organisation that pulled this one together across continents and oceans!

Wedding number three on the list was Stine and Martins nuptuals in Copenhagen, Denmark. Stine is one of the other members of the four and her departure home to Denmark was the end of a glorious season. The couple were married in the tiniest of rooms in the town hall - a superb gothic building that was just astounding inside. From the town hall (after photos, rowing guard of honour, band and so on) the wedding party was taken on a boat tour along the canals and out to Trekroner naval fort for the reception. Danish weddings are fantastic traditional affairs and if you ever get the opportunity to attend one embrass it wholeheartedly! It was FABULOUS! Again thanks to the bride and groom. The speeches - wonderfully translated by our table fellows - the song and the traditions were wonderful things to be a part of!

With one more to go I am looking forward to seeing another grand example of the traditional English wedding. One difference between NZ and UK weddings is the brides speech. She doesn't make one in the UK from what I can see. At home the Best man, Father of the Bride and Groom speak and then so does the bride, bridesmaids, guests - anyone can get up and say a few words! Superb.

So, when you plan your wedding I say look around the world and find a few traditions that tickle your fancy and include them! Get your guests writing songs about the happy couple, ask friends to speak, bang the floor to have the bride and groom kiss under the table! Go for it!

Travelling Mc

Posted by TravelMc 04:19 Comments (0)

Seville!

Ole!

sunny 26 °C
View Seville on TravelMc's travel map.

Seville was superb. We went out Thursday – leaving Cambridge mid afternoon and arriving in Seville early evening. Some of the group headed out for a meal but my room (with 2 lovely ladies from the crew I have been coxing) opted for sleep which was the right idea. Friday we were a bit delayed getting on the water because the hangars of boats weren’t open as expected. We stayed at a facility purely for water sports like kayaking, canoeing and rowing – a hotel with cafeteria and in front of it on the river’s edge these long low buildings racking all sorts of boats. It meant we fell out of the hotel onto the water ready to go every morning.
Friday was spent getting in the first couple of outings, getting used to the river and how far down we could row and enjoying the scenery. There was a bit of upheaval where the person in charge of the outing plans had a diva moment and upset a few people (largely because she hadn’t done her job in time) but it all got sorted and we ended up with a situation where we could work hard and play hard – outings were well coached and everyone gave it their best but when we were off the water we were on holiday!
Friday between the morning and evening outings we got the chance to spend a bit of time sunbathing/sightseeing. I opted for sunbathing given the 28+ degree heat and beaming sunshine (and the fact I knew we had more time Saturday to go see stuff so could top up the tan a bit without fear). All the women on the trip felt the ‘view’ was particularly good. Given that there was a kayaking championships on the Saturday there were absolutely loads of toned and gorgeous foreign men everywhere. The boys weren’t so pleased as the women there were all a little ‘hench’!

So, we did a lot of rowing. The view of the city from the river is spectacular and we had really good weather until Sunday afternoon where the wind got up and the river became extremely rough. We were able to row up to 7km before turning around and returning to the facility and we just baked in the sun. We went into Seville centre on Saturday after our morning outing and wandered around the cathedral and did a little bit of souvenir shopping and took photos of the buildings and all those things you do in Europe when you don’t have enough time to go in to most places but can peek through the doors. I did go for the half hour bull ring tour which was interesting. They had a big bull fight that night so there were people setting up cameras and all sorts which gave the place a bit of a vibe. I’m not enormously interested in the modern sport but the idea of it as an historical activity is interesting.

We also had the outing dinner on Saturday night which was great. We all mixed up who we sat with at dinner and got to know other people on the trip better and enjoyed a lot of sangria and so on. It was a spectacular evening that culminated in half a dozen of us sobering up in the hotel reception at 4am. I even got to practice a bit of massage with willing victims on the coffee table which was suitably random for this sort of trip!

As you can probably imagine the next morning was a bit of a struggle but well worth the effort. The younger lads hadn’t come into until after 6am so were all a state. Because so many people were still asleep only 5 of us got out on the water first thing. I went out with a Canadian woman who is new to the club. We went out in a double and had a fabulous paddle and are looking at doing outings regularly here in Cambridge! (So you can believe I didn’t have a hangover and the massage practice probably helped me as well!).

Then we had the competitive part of the weekend – the doubles and 8s racing each other. I coxed the development squad boys – effectively a new novice crew) and we were fighting to prove how much work we’d done over the weekend. They did it in fine form and won 2 of 4 races and really made the other 8 work for their final win. Given the conditions and the fact we were racing through 2 foot + waves (when the side of your boat is only 1 foot high you worry ok!) into a head wind I think my guys did terrifically!

Then we headed back to mooch about and recover a little from the night before while we waited for the coach to the airport, watch the training videos and so on. We had a good trip back once we had gotten through the Spanish side of things! I will have to say that Stansted was actually quite organized – I was through and had my bag in my hand in 15 minutes – totally unbelievable!

Posted by TravelMc 04:01 Archived in Spain Tagged boating Comments (0)

Then there was the scottish trip

Och Aye the Noo!

overcast 15 °C
View Cambridge_JohnoGroats_n_Back on TravelMc's travel map.

After Rome we took some time to go up north - aiming for John O'Groats. We blasted north aiming for Stirling. We arrived 5 minutes after the Wallace monument closed (shouldn't have had the pee stop!) but made good time so headed on a scenic route further north looking for a farm stay (dad likes farms ok!?) and found a BRILLIANT pub in a village called Braco. The food was AMAZING and the hospitality matched. Its a teeny little town on a most fabulous scenic route north of Stirling and I'd recommend it a thousand times over - just brilliant! We ate like kings and we slept like logs!

From Braco we aimed north and for JO'Gs via Pitlochry then via Inverness then north to Wick where we stopped to take a look at Wicks Old Castle. A chance discovery that was just a ruined tower on a cliffs edge - very dramatic but much more for the fact that the Atlantic was completely still like glass and the grey colour of teh sky to the point where you couldn't tell where one started and the other ended - a truly magical sight!

We amazed at the brightness of the gorse (a weed in NZ) and the landscape and the glass like ocean and the dozens of tiny little villages hugging cliffs or sprawling across bleak moor-liek landscapes. Its truly a different world up there.

From Wick we carried on up to John O Groats, so we've done end to end of this fair isle, then on to Dunnet head to truly reach the top of the country. We looked at the little crofts on the islands off this coast and admired the birds swooping and floating on the air buffetting the cliffs and just amazed at the absolute bleakness of this most nothern place. And we carried on.

We were looking for a B&B and though we stopped here and there there wasn't anything that didn't make you feel a little uncomfortable until finally we came to Betty Hill and an interesting B&B at the top of the hill before the hotel. A family run farm running off the main road through the village - they had a stag called merlin or something similar up in the hills behind the house and one brother lived on one side and across the road and another in the family home all farmers or at least helping out. the landlady in her 80s was as energetic as someone 40 years younger and an absolute treasure. The beds were comfortable and night didn't arrive til well after 10pm! The hotel restaurant feed you as if you were 20 stone and starving and the young waitress was a very sweet girl so they got the thumbs up as well. There were sheep everywhere with their wool falling off. Mum was hopeful they were the new breed that self sheers (or sheads I guess) but it is apparently some sort of parasite and the common grazing encourages it so some farmers have invested a lot of money in fencing out these poor infected animals. A bit of a downer but very interesting to hear about the route cause being the removal of the law for dipping and the police observation. I could go on about this and the removal of the in-hospital training of nurses but I wont - get in touch if you really want to hear my world chagning arguments! :-)

After a scrummy breakfast (Full english/scottish breakfasts are the whole reason for B&Bs I tell you now!) we headed further around the coast aiming for the middle of this most northerly tip so we could head back south. Little did we know this was going to be the start of an EXTREMELY long day!

We set off and the weather was immediately better than it had been all week - sunshine and calm skies as far as you could see. The countryside reminded me of postcards I've received from America - mountains and valleys and rocky bedded rivers - just fantastic. And then we rounded a corner and my breath was truly taken away. We had come to the top of a Loch that was glassy and reflected perfectly the mountains rising up from its southern end. the hills sides to either side were all colours of heather and grass and rock and it was just the most magical thing I have ever seen. I'll dig out a photo and post it soon...

We travelled the full length of the Loch and rounded the southern most tip aiming south and for Lairg - home town of a good friend of my dads. Having come up the east coast and seen the bleakness stretching out towards the grey ocean heading down the middle where it was a little more craggy and a lot less coastal (surprise, surprise) was a nice change. The roadside around the aforementioned loch warned campervans (Achtung!) to watch out for sheep and lambs and to go slowly in german and in english and provided entertainment for a short time before we then hit the less interesting landscapes that lead toward Lairg. This town is fairly picturesque and sat in a much more hilly, loch side location than what we had been passing through. It had a distinctly swiss feel to it (something about the houses) and was quite small so we didn't stop long but headed on south aiming for Inverness again where we would transfer over to the West Coast (like my scottish home) and head down beside Loch Ness.

The east coast of scotland is quite different to the west coast in that the dramatic highland landscapes of the westcoast are a complete contrast to the largely moor-like (yet still dramatic) land of the east and the swtich from East to West is immediately apparent. It was like crossing into a completely different country. Perhaps it was this that kept us going...on and on. We headed down Loch Ness through villages and towns thinking if we were lucky we may make it past Fort William but no problem if not - we'd just get a room there for the night. We made such good time we got into and through Fort Augustus then Fort William well before we expected and headed south for Inverary (via a small detour because I read the map wrong!) and toward some lunch.

The first port of call on the way was past Ballachulish and into Glen Coe. If I were to say that anywhere was my spiritual home I would say it was this place. Which really does prove I'm over dramatic. That said I an honestly say it is truly the most beautiful place in all of Britian and probably all of Europe. And this time round it was crawling with ramblers. I will say no more.

From Glen Coe we aimed for Inverary and just enjoyed the ride... Lunch here we come.

Having made a habit this trip of having toasted ham sandwiches for my midday repast I was quite looking forward to the same when we hit inverary but it was not to be. We arrived amid a sea of motorbikes (well it was a good day for a ride) and parked up to have a look about. We wandered up the small main street and found the one or two eateries that looked promising and then decided on teh chippy (what can I offer as excuse but we were hungry?) I was quite amazed to discover that you can by a deep fried and battered black pudding the size of a small truncheon for your lunch in Inverary... That should have warned us. But we decided to try scottish fish and chips in teh hope they would be better than the ones we had in England. After 5 years I do know better than this and I still remain hopeful and optimistic. No the food was not better and I should have held out for a ham toastie but things cannot be undone so we will move on!

Replenished we did a bit of souvenir shopping (tartan hats with ginger wigs attached etc...) and then decided we should aim for Rest and Be Thankful. Another highlight from mum and dads last trip here where we went to Oban and decided to get the coach back to Glasgow rather than wait for the train. We had a magical trip that trip and saw seals in the bay, the family castle, Tobermory, and the coach ride topped it off (before Glasgow at least - the city had lots more to offer us when we arrived). Rest and Be Thankful is... I guess its the top of a Valley. The old road used to wind up from the Valley floor along the sides of a steep highland mountain to one side before reaching a point where you could stop, rest and be thankful that you had made it up the hill and it was all downhill from here. Its a magic place and I recommend passing by just to see it!

From here we were doing so well we headed for Glasgow (and Firkin point so I could finally get 'that' photo). We made such good time we decided to keep on going and aim for as far as we could get before we could go no further, or home. Whichever came first.

Dad was a legend - he drove all but 1 1/2 hours of the 16 hour journey. We made it back to Cambridge somewhere around midnight totally amazed that we'd done it. All the way from the top of the country! What a way to see Scotland. Bear in mind we've spent a lot of time in Scotland we were just doing a hit and run tour of the places we wanted to see once more really! And just so you know:
It takes longer to crawl up the east coast than drive down the west coast
And no we didn't see Nessy. I looked though! ;-)

Posted by TravelMc 08:29 Archived in Scotland Comments (0)

What next??

Its so long ago I can't remember

sunny 22 °C

Following our first week or two of adventures Mum and Dad went to Crete and had a ball while I got back to work...yaaaaaaaaaawn... and earned some more dosh to spend on the next trip - Rome.

I wont go on about Rome because I have done this at least twice and maybe more previously but this trip was totally different. We were mucked about by the B&B folk and I recind my recommendations of them now as the new folk are rubbish. However after a battle of wills we got the room we booked and the view etc and took a walking tour looking for diinner. This time around we found Largo Argentina (many times - one of those spots we kept stumbling across) and ate in a cool little pub that was showing the Americas cup (Dad was happy) and strolled about taking in the forum and colloseum and all those things nearby. Over the next three days, after much walking and a scam artist ((I've lost my wallet and cant buy petrol - if I give you a leather jacket will you give me money etc etc etc) and gelato and sun and bustle we got a ticket to one of the tour buses which was well worth it! Dad got to walk along the ring of circo massimo and mum got to the tiberine island and we all wandered up and 'admired' the hoardes of people at St Peters... More gelato (no surprise there)...we also found a fantastic little restaurant for dinner the second night and decided that was where we were going forever more but it was closed the next night...possibly a good reason to get us looking farther afield for our supper!
It rained then was beautifully hot and sunny... the crowds were astounding and the toutes are now all of a different ethinic background and MUCH more creepy than those that occupied the streets on my previous trips.
We had the most fantastic hail storm - just after we had returned to the B&B on teh second day it chucked it down with hail stones the size of golf balls. The streets cleared of everyone apart from the tout selling umbrellas (he did well the day before but I dont think he did so well with the hail). The scooter riders pulled up onto the sidewalks and hid under dooways and anywhere they could find and we all just watched the hail fall for a full half an hour. The place looked like it had been hit with a snow storm for a short time afterwards but the sun popped out and melted it all pretty quickly! It was mad weather!
On our final afternoon Mum and I found a FANTASTIC porceline shop I'd love to live near (but I'd be broke if I did) called Bianca something...Huge baskets of prceline that looked like woven wicker and teeny tiny little pestles and mortars and everything in between - heaven, absolute heaven.
Because it was near easter there were pilgrims everywhere and you couldn't go anywhere without seeing one of three things - nuns/priests/monks; a wall of mopeds at the front of every queue at the traffic lights; hoardes of police men and women at intersections guiding traffic to allow police/ambulance vehicles to get through the almost constant crush of traffic. What a fabulous place!

We tried to get lost and right when we thought we succeeded we walked around a corner and were at the Trevi Fountain so it proves all roads lead to Rome and you can't get lost if thats how it works can you?! I think my mum got a bit of a culture shock - the traffic certainly had her stumped but Dad had ladies blowing him kisses every time he stopped traffic to help mum get across so it can't all be bad can it?!

After Rome we took some time to go up north - aiming for John O'Groats. But you'll have to read the next blog for that info!!

Posted by TravelMc 08:37 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

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