Midge and I have moved our blogging from our usual website. We will eventually migrate more of our stories over here - We hope you will enjoy it.
You can still read our older trips including the Coast to Coast Offas Dyke and others at

Paul and Midge

Friday 10 July 2015

A Pennine Journey

Please note: This blog provider is not working properly so I am unable to add photographs at the moment. I will try and do this as soon as the provider gets its act together. In the meantime here is the story.

Time passes and we all have to take advantage of every moment we have together, especially when your best friend is blind and at 11 probably has most of his best days behind him. Every year since Midge was just over 2 I have taken him backpacking along the wonderful Long Distance Paths (LDPs) of the UK. I cannot really guess how many miles we have walked together in our lives but it must be the equivalent to more than once around the globe. Because he is getting older and because he has had a couple of injuries as a result of his collie enthusiasm for life, unstoppable playing  coming into conflict with the limits and risks occasioned by his blindness I had to think of something a little more modest this year.

Last year on our 400 miles trip around the mountains of Wales he suffered a badly sprained palmar ligament in his right from wrist/paw from jumping over stiles so I figured I would chose a route that would avoid as many stiles as possible. We had done the Pennine Way as part of our 1200 miles John O’Groats to Lands’ End trip and enjoyed it so I though the Pennine Bridleway (PBW) would be a good choice. As this is mainly aimed at horse riders there are no stiles so I thought this would be a good alternative.  Where the route looked a bit boring ro where I thought there would be an interesting diversion we would take that. We would take it steady, no longer the 30 mile days of the past just around half that.

As usual I posted Midges food ahead but still had to carry 4 days food for him. We caught the train from Melton Mowbray changing trains in Derby where Midge was coo-ed over by a family on the platform, they too had a collie but, they had to admit not one who was so perfectly behaved. They were astonished, as people usually are, to learn that Midge is blind. He looks directly at people, following their voice, so it appears as if he is looking at you straight in the face. They were equally astonished  to hear of our planned trip 150 miles to Kirkby Stephen.

We got off at Cromford station and we were soon on the trail. The Pennine Bridleway follows ancient mediaeval Packhorse routes, 18 century cart routes and disused 19th century railways mainly on the west side of the Pennines of England. The start is up an early 19 century inclined tramway, if you are interested in industrial archaeology this is the place to start. The day was already hot at midday and we were promised the hottest days of the summer for the start with the prospect of some serious thunderstorms. That counts for a summer in England; three hot days and a thunderstorm then it is on to autumn.

Midge was off ahead as soon as he was free and I had to be watchful of him, each time we approached a gate or stile I had to call “careful!”. This way he know that there is an obstacle ahead. He is usually pretty good at avoiding bumping in to things but when enthusiastic to get on he has a tendency to trot head first into closed gates. The ground underfoot was gravelly crushed granite and  limestone so  I was worried for Midge, although he is used to long distance this is quite an irritant to a dog’s paws. We travelled through beautiful limestone scenery of green fields surrounding green pastures and some sensational fields of wild flowers and orchids.

Midge was looking tired and thirsty but there was little respite for him. The silly boy will not drink from his bowl when he is really hot and will only drink when he is lying full length in water and there was precious little of that. The route  initially take the High Peak trail popular with mountain bikers and there was a few out today. Cyclists are sensibly wary of a collie because of their inbuilt desire to keep order and tidy up moving objects including cyclists, they are just fast moving sheep. Midge is a little different, as soon as he hears a cyclist approach he gets to the side into the grass and lies still until they pass. This can be disconcerting for the cyclist who expects a sudden ambush – it never comes. It does slow us down as Midge does not come out until they are past and the more there are the more it slows us down. Midge does this because he used to chase cyclists but I taught him to lie down until they had passed and now I must pay the price of having a very obedient dog. He does this if a farm vehicle unexpectedly come up on bridleways. Often the first intimation I have of an arrival is Midge disappearing into the grass. Now he is blind he occasionally does this at the sound of the wind in the trees or an aircraft passing overhead.

After 5 hot hours and about 18 miles we arrived at the tea shop on the trail at Parsley Hay and I treated myself to tea and managed to persuade Midge to drink from a bowl, he had drunk nothing since we left home. A short trip of a couple of miles across some fields of hay brought us to Monyash an old limestone village in the Derbyshire dales. We found the campsite, checked in, pitched the tent and then I did what those of you who have read my blogs before will know is my obsession. I had a shower and washed clothes, only socks and undies this time but on long trips I take only one change of clothes and am obsessed with washing them.

The campsite was also the place where teenagers on the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme (DoE-ers) were meeting up after their walk. This always takes place at the end of the school year to get kids out of the school so the teachers have free time to visit their psychologists. You can see sullen teens all over the UK not enjoying themselves shadowed by adults to make sure they come to no grief. In the old days the walking and overnight camp usually meant being dumped somewhere in the countryside with one or two others and from there expected to survive the night or two and arrive at a point many miles away where you would be picked up or the mountain rescue called. In the current litigious climate it is done by too many, too organised and it no fun.

I left for the pub where I duty called for me to boost the local economy be sampling the locally brewed beers.

The Doe-Ers were noisy that night and were up early the next morning – obviously the poor things had not slept well. Fortunately they were away very quickly. We were away from the main part of the campsite and Midge was desperate to see all the people he could hear. He sat there staring blindly into space wagging his tail and putting on his best smile in case anyone should happen by; they would be unlikely to resist such a friendly looking dog – he hoped.

The day promised to be even warmer today, it was already hot by 8.30 when we set off in the direction of Chapel-en-le-Frith. We had come off the PBW a the previous afternoon and would return to it after a couple of miles over tracks and fields. This section of the PBW follows some minor roads to in order to avoid these we would use footpaths up dry limestone valleys. In addition to this there were no campsites en route so we would have to deviate to Chapel. All went well, we saw no one at all as we headed towards Miller’s Dale. From here we would walk up Monks’ Dale, Peter Dale and Hay Dale to re-join the PBW. We were only a short distance into Monks' Dale when we hit problems. The floor of the Dale is thick with trees and the ground is strewn with greasy rocks making the going for Midge very difficult and slow. He had to pick his way carefully over the boulders directed to the best route by my. Fortunately being a sheepdog he knows his left, right, in, away and a host of other directions so I can talk him through the best route. Sometimes there was not a best route and he had to scramble over and under unseen obstacles. I was relieved when, after a long time, we arrived in Peter Dale. Midge immediately ran on ahead finally able to walk by himself. We met a couple of blokes having a break from walking who congratulate us in negotiating the rough terrain. I mentioned Midge’s blindness and they could scarcely believe it until they saw his eyes “That is one exceptional dog!” said one. I said I knew that, it is something I am told regularly.

Hay Dale was simple a grassy delight in hot sun but no water for Midge. We met a couple out with a boisterous Labrador, I was directing Midge over a stile and they commented that he took instruction really well. I explained about Midge and the man turned to his dog and said “see that dog, he can get over the stile on his own and he is blind” – apparently the lab had to be lifted having not developed the skills of climbing.

We had a long rest in the sun near a shallow stream so Midge could cool down. The way to Chapel from here did not look picturesque as we had to cross an active limestone quarry. I always think the faster the better I these situations so we gritted our teeth and set off. In fact it was not so bad and not as dusty as expected. We were about half way across when I heard an alarm sound followed shortly by another single one. I knew what this meant and turned to watch thousands of tons of rock blasted from the quarry face. This huge noise and movement of the air and ground startled Midge so he ran off towards it barking wildly, keen to tackle the unseen foe.

On arrival in Chapel I asked directions to the campsite, I had read there was one in the town. Not according to the people in the shop where I stopped, so the owner of the shop called out his Dad who concurred. The nearest was some miles away in Comb. We had already had a very hot and tiring walk and I did not really relish longer one. I asked again on the street – once again local people knew nothing of any campsite. It really amazes me how little people know about their local area even if they have lived there all their lives. I had to talk the information I had and walked out to Comb to camp. On arrival I phone the camp owner and he told me where to camp and that he would be over soon to collect the money – he never came so I had a free night. (On arrival home after the trip I found there was indeed a campsite in the town about 600 yard from where I had asked about it.)

The nearby village of Comb I knew from passing through here on JOGLE and remembered there was a very nice pub so this provided me with an excellent meal and some decent beer. The pub garden was full of people having a drink after walking their dogs, all were well behaved until a West Highland terrier arrived determined to take on every dog in the place – as long as they stayed on their leads and well away from him.

Midge got plenty of fuss from strangers who all fussed him even more when they knew he was blind. Midge of course plays on this to get even more attention. He will “stare” at people’s backs until they perceive something is watching them, turn around and see Midge wiggling his ears, putting on his best smile and wagging his tail trying to attract their attention. In a crowd, if any one says “Hello, how are you?” Midge is on his paws in an instant to acknowledge their greeting even though it is not aimed at him.

The night was insufferably hot and we slept poorly. I was unable to leave all the tent flaps open because of the biting insects. I had camped in the middle of the field where I would get a good breeze to keep them away but the night was still, hot and humid.

I spent most of the night getting the Midge special massage. Midge is a great dreamer and runs, drinks, barks and snarls in his sleep. I was repeatedly woken by being pummelled by paws in the back, heavy breathing in my ear and gentle and not so gentle woofing noises.

Today was forecast to be the hottest day in the year and for once they got it right. This combined with the humidity meant I was wet through all day praying for some kind of breeze to cool us down. We went skirted around Chinley and up onto the moors where there was a slight breeze and I hoped at this time in the morning it would keep Midge cool. He really suffers with his thick dark coat on sunny days.

I was walking along and realised Midge was not with me, I looked back and there he was walking very slowly, I called him, he stopped and looked up, I called him again, he did not move. I started to wonder if he was very tired or that he had hurt himself. I called him to come and he came slowly. I knew what was wrong. We were not playing enough! Midge will do this to me on walks, he will stand still until, I either get his ball out or play some other game. One of his favourites is the Animal Farm game, nothing to do with Orwell’s book, I have to make an animal noise (sheep, cow and chicken are his favourites) and he will come racing up barking. He then stops and I walk on and do the same again. This can go on for miles, so if you see an old guy wandering along making random farm animal noises and being chased by a collie you know who it is. So we played animal farm as long as the track was smooth all the way into Birch Vale.

We were now moving into the area where the urban conurbation of Manchester seeps up into the moors and hills. This area was an important woollen cloth producing area in the 16th Century and even into the 19th century. The legacy of this is the packhorse trails, the horse drawn tramways, long since out of use except for walking and cycling and numerous small reservoirs and water courses which provided the power to the mills. Eventually most of the industry moved into Manchester, Bolton and Rochdale to the “dark satanic mills” of William Blake’s “Jerusalem”. The reservoirs made a useful stopping off point to cool Midge and one in he was reluctant to get back out again. He loves swimming. Now he is blind he will not enter fast flowing water but loves ponds and streams. I was glad to be able to get some clean water for him as he will often lie in the filthiest mud hole available and he did just this a little while later. I could hear running water and Midge took off into some reeds. On his return he was black from the chest down and stank of stagnant water.

We were soon on the marvellous Cown Edge with expensive views all around. Being near to houses there were a few people hiking up the hill and Midge greeted them all, welcoming them to his hill.

Back down in the village of Charlesworth the heat was almost unbearable, there being no breeze. I restocked on food and liquids and headed for tonight’s stopping point at the wonderfully named Broadbottom. We camped and it threatened rain. This only increased the humidity and made the heat even less bearable. The campsite was in a country park which was formed after the demolition of a huge textile mill. The mill had been built in the early 19th century but had lain unused until demolished in the 1980s and the land allowed to return to nature. Among the trees and grassland were the outlines of the walls, conduits, mill leats and ponds – excellent to clean a filthy dog before he gets into the tent and also to cool him off in.

In the evening we were saved by the Harewood Arms, a local Victorian pub with a cool tiled floor which Midge thoroughly enjoyed almost as much as the attention he got from the locals. I thoroughly enjoyed the superb beer from the Brewery which they had there, probably the best beer on the whole trip.

As we walked back to the tent we saw and heard a severe thunderstorm and I expected and hoped we would get it soon, anything to cool this temperature. In the pub one of the customers had said the thermometer in his car as he drove home from work at 6pm was showing 37⁰ C. I fully believed him.

It did not rain and the day started much as it had left off – very hot and oppressively humid. Today would be a continuation through the old mill villages to the east of Manchester, mostly tranquil and rural but occasionally rather urban as we used an old tramway through Uppermill. Despite the heat Midge insisted in playing Animal Farm and when not engaged in that, finding sticks to carry. Because of the heat I made sure we had a couple of rest stops, normally we just keep on walking but I had planned short days for Midge so there was no need to hurry.

We chatted to an old lady who told me she had two great loves in life, hiking and border collies. Time had deprived her of both. She now walked unsteadily with a stick and her old collie had died last year and she saw no point in getting another at her age. I heard barking coming from her cottage, “I am just looking after that dog for a friend.” She said adding disparagingly,” it isn’t a collie.” I told her of the collie rescues who often wanted homes for old abandoned collies who just wanted a quiet home, she perked up and asked me more and seemed determined to get her son to look things up on the internet. She gave Midge one last cuddle and we went on to Diggle armed with the information that there was a particularly good tea shop by the canal which she strongly recommended.

The tea shop proved to be excellent and Midge and I sat out on the deck watching the sky darken again – would we get to our destination before it rained? Midge was the subject of fascination of three little girls, he loves children and he was soon enjoying their attention – his idea of bliss.

We followed the canal to where it disappears into the Standedge tunnel, the longest and narrowest narrow boat tunnel in the UK. Built in the 18th Century it is barely large enough to fit a 7 feet wide boat and you are unable to stand upright on the deck. A claustrophobic three hours trip now but at one time the boat had to be pushed through by leg power and took considerably longer. From this point we headed up into the hills once again and the rain threatened with a waterproof on/off/on/ off situation until I decided I would get wetter in a waterproof from sweat than I would from the light rain.

More reservoirs led us to a very beautiful spot where I could see our campsite for the night perched high up on the edge of a valley. We were soon there and I pitched in the most scenic place overlooking the valley surrounded by wildflowers.

I indulged in my obsession again – they had a laundry!!! So I washed everything I had worn so far and got it all dry. My idea of bliss! No sooner had I dried my stuff than the heavens opened and we were treated to an hour of torrential rain and a wind which threatened to lift me and my tent off our lofty perch. At least this might cool the temperature.

Midge fed I needed to feed myself so we headed to the nearest pub the Ram’s Head. As I approached I noticed the gloomy words “Traditional Country Inn” on the sign. This usually means the opposite, a place of affectation where a farmer in his muddy boots would most certainly not be welcome neither would anyone fresh off the moor and certainly not if accompanied by their dog. This proved to be the case as notices said no dogs, no muddy boots, etc etc. In other words a city restaurant on the moors where is does not belong, masquerading as a pub.

We headed down the hill into the village of Denshaw to the Junction Inn where the welcome could not have been more different, friendly people, good food and half decent beer. I am not a great fan of JW Lees beers of Manchester but it is local and acceptable.

Midge was the centre of attention as usual which he appreciated. He was fed gratis from the kitchen even though he had already had his dinner. He often gets a free feed from people, I never do. The people were very entertaining (sometimes unwittingly) and, with the accents, it was rather like being in a Peter Kay sketch.

We hurried up the hill back to the tent between showers to find out tent besieged by Midge’s name sakes. The English midge is the same species as the Scottish midge and with a similar appetite for human blood. I find the bite of the English variety less irritating than the Scots version. They were here in numbers like I have never seen in England before and only once before in Scotland. We hurriedly got into the tent but not without letting at least a hundred in with us. I spent the next half an hour killing them. I thought I had got them all but during the night feel their bite and in the morning squished half a dozen which exuded my own blood onto the fabric of my tent.

The night had been wet and condensation ran down the inside of the outer tent. I smothered myself in midge repellent before opening the tent to let Midge out. They were still there but in lower numbers. The night before I had wedged Midge bowl under the outer tent to stop it blowing away. The bowl is rectangular and I had wedged it across the narrow, this being 6inches wide. The rain running down the outside and condensation on the inside had collected in the bowl and with it at least a thousand midges. I estimate that you could fit well over 200 bowls under the perimeter of the tent or 200,000 midges drowned in a single night. There was still plenty left!

The day was thankfully much cooler and we set off under high cloud. I had decided to deviate again from the PBW which takes a route in the valleys and kept on the high moors following the Pennine Way. Midge and I had done this as part of JOGLE and I wanted to do it again as it made a better route to our destination. We followed the PBW until the M62 which we crossed and I felt that great sense of freedom you get when you observe people in cars and lorries speeding towards their work and you have the whole day to yourself free in the countryside, it is a great feeling. From here we moved towards the Pennine way reaching it just before the White Horse pub at this point we met a guy doing the Pennine way but we were rather fast and soon outpaced him. The day was breezy and sunny and as my tent was wet I stopped to spread it out and dry it. The guy doing the Pennine way soon caught up with us and we chatted about the hiking and the routes we were doing. Midge demanded attention of course.

I had forgotten that the section leading towards Stoodley Pike had caused Midge problems two years ago. I had misremembered this as being nearer to Blackshaw edge which I had avoided. Although the path is not steep or rough it has many boulders sticking out at nose height for Midge. A sighted dog would easily step over or weave through these but Midge could not. I told him to follow me and directed him right and left but often I walked too fast for him and he lagged behind so we had to go more slowly. This kind of terrain really tires him out and he was very glad to reach the soft grass nearer to the monument on the Pike itself, so much so that he stopped for a roll in the turf in celebration followed by running ahead to show me that he was not really tired and was it not time for another game?

The way to our campsite for tonight was easily remembered from 2 years ago and we got there at Jack Bridge around 2pm; plenty of time to have a shower and wash all I had been wearing. The day was now hot and breezy so I could get everything dry. It was a Friday night and the site, only a very small sloping field, would be full. Midge made friends with everyone on the site who were very pleased to meet this exceptional dog. As is usual as I was putting up the tent Midge was hassling me for his ball. I always carry a toy for him and he has a ball with a bell in it which we usually have on trips. If I fail to get his ball out quickly when we make camp he will get into my rucksack and pull it out.  I can leave food lying around in the tent or in my rucksack and he will never touch it, but he will steal his ball if I do not give it to him promptly.

Midge gave a display of his fantastic other senses as I threw his ball for him and he chased and retrieved it often catching it in mid-air. People who saw him doing this found it quite incredible that he was blind and I was obliged to demonstrate that unless the ball makes a noise he cannot follow its movement, staring as he does blindly ahead.

The wonderfully name and old New Delight Inn which adjoins the site is a great place. It is the Brewery tap for the Bridestones brewery which produces excellent beers, which rivalled the Greenmill brewery for their quality. As the word of Midge spread people came to see this celebrity, the dog who hikes blind, the dog who has done John O’ Groats to Lands’ End blind and all the mountains in Wales while blind. “You mean he can’t see anything?” “Surely he must be able to see something!” People doubt his blindness and therefore his talents but I don’t mind there are not many dogs who hike the distances he does – even if they are sighted and I have never met, or even heard of a dog who does what Midge does; although I am sure they exist.

The site was noisy and a young couple nearby chose 1.30 to start and argument which woke everyone up. This was superseded by a spectacular thunderstorm with torrential rain which lasted some hours.

The morning was misty and cool. I had eaten so much the night before I did not bother with breakfast but packed up my wet tent after feeding Midge and we set off into intermittent drizzle. The midges were out in force and even with liberally applied repellent they continued to crawl over my skin until they found a spot I had missed and started their meal there. They crept onto my eyelids and into the corners of my eyes obviously aware that I could not apply repellent there. The only thing for it was to out run them and fortunately they cannot fly at more than a walking speed so once we were under way they eventually gave up. However, if we stopped to take a drink, open a gate or read the map they were back in force.

We were back on the PBW again over the moors keeping up a pace ahead of the midges. We had little time to play – that would give the midges time to get us. Eventually we descended into the village of Wycoller in the Forest of Trawden. Forest in the UK does not  always refer to a forest or even a place which was heavily forested. Forest in this sense refers to an area which was under Forest Law. In the 13th century up to the end of the 16th this meant an area which was subject to Forest Law a law separate from the law enshrined in Magna Carta, indeed it replaced it within the area designated forest. It was a particularly oppressive and often brutal law especially for the poor folks subject to it.

Wycoller is a place I had never heard of but it is an absolute gem of an ancient village with a ruined hall and a fantastic 16th century aisled barn which we visited. It also had an impressive clapper bridge over 1000 years old. It also had a very fine tea shop and as I had not breakfasted or eaten or drunk anything that day I went there for a cream tea which really hit the spot. Midge had to make do with some biscuits, this was my treat not his.

The end of our day was in sight and the temperature had increased as the day had cleared but fortunately there was a breeze. We headed for the small town of Earby and we were to camp above the village in Thornton in Craven. We did a quick reccy of the village for places to eat that evening and I bought some extra food for Midge. He had looked as though he was getting tired on the last couple of miles so I thought some rice in his diet might help.

Midge seemed to be limping as we left the village but was soon running ahead once off the lead and on pasture land which led us to the site. As we entered the site across a gravel track he once again seemed to limp but I put this does to the large pieces of gravel getting between his pads. As soon as I started pitching the tent he demanded his ball and we had a good session playing and no sign of that limp.

I washed and did some laundry and dried it off in the breeze – as usual- and Midge had a good long sleep – unusual for him. He soon perked up as three children aged around 3 and 4 came to visit him and he demonstrated his sheep dog skills, running around to commands.

I was very hungry so we headed off into Earby and once again Midge limped across the gravel and raced ahead on the grass. Knowing the way to Earby, having been there once, he led the way across the fields unerringly to the stiles and gates. I had been told a pub called the Red lion did food and allowed dogs in so we headed there. Midge seemed uncomfortable walking through the town, I put it down to the heat and the traffic. On arrival at the Red lion I was told they were not doing food but the White Lion down the road was and Midge would be welcome. As we made our way there is was obvious something was wrong with Midge he had developed a limp.

Once into the White lion I ordered a beer (very good) and inspected Midge’s paws. There was a deep hole in the centre of one of his pads. This explained the limp and it also meant we had to stop. Midge heals very quickly but I knew this would take at least a week. I was very sad, we had been going so well, nothing like our trips of the past where we would travel 20 or 30 miles in a day, Midge was too old for that now. I just wanted a few more days with him to complete the journey but knew that could not be. After I had eaten we set off back to our camp. Midge was really struggling with the hard surface of the streets but as soon as we were back on grass he ran on, rolling in the grass, asking me to play. For a moment I thought we might be alright but I knew it was over for the time being and I also knew that in the future our trips would have to be even more modest. I would just have to look fondly on the amazing trips of the past and accept my hiking buddy was now getting to be an old man.

Back at the site Midge limped painfully across the gravel, ran to the tent and grabbed his ball “Come on Dad let’s play”. Yes, I thought, for the time we have left, let’s play.

Wednesday 28 May 2014

A Grand Tour of Wales

Midge and I rather ignored Wales on our John O'Groats to Land's End trip last year so we will redress this by doing a Grand Tour of the mountains and hills of Wales taking in pretty much all of significance. For those of you familiar with Wales and/or willing to do a net search we will start at Conwy on the north Coast, traverse the mountains of Snowdonia, take a break to visit my friend's birthday BBQ in Llanberis then carry on. This will take us down the Cambrian Way to the Brecon Beacons where we will head off over the Black Mountains to join the ancient Offa's Dyke to meet the north coast again at Prestatyn. I think this will be around 400 miles or so with about 80,000 feet of ascent.

We will be posting as regularly as we can but for those of you on Facebook we will be updating there on my home page Paul Watson is my name - link this with either Leicestershire or Manchester University and I pop up,

 or follow us on the Blind Dogs Facebook page.

Blind Dogs

If you did not get to read about our 1200 miles Land's End to John O'Groats trip you can download it here, it is best read on a tablet.


In the meantime here is a short video of what Midge and I got up to last year.

Another year with Midge

I will up date our packing and progress; we actually head off in one week from today. I only hope the weather picks up.

Midge is doing just fine and is always ready for a walk despite being blind, I took him out into Wales to try him out on some scrambling and he was great so I have few worries for him. I will take a short safety line for the sections where he might get into problems and he wears his harness while we are out in the hills. Keep watching. Let us hope the technology does better this time and I can actually blog as I go along.

Monday 18 February 2013

John O'Groats to Land's End - the big one!

Midge and I are walking from John O'Groats to Land's End (JOGLE). We have started a new blog to cover this exciting event. At the moment we are in the preparation stages and we set off at the end of April 2013. We have booked our train tickets and are very excited. The route will be about 1200 miles and should take us 2 months to complete.

You will be able to follow us on the new blog and from there through Facebook.

Our JOGLE blogspot

If anyone wants to walk a section with us please contact us.

We will be raising money for Hounds for Heroes through our Just giving page.


Hounds for Heroes raise money to provide assistance dogs for injured ex-military and emergency services personel. I thought the charity was appropriate for my hound who I think is a real hero and who loves people.

Tuesday 10 July 2012

The Cotswold Way
Those of you who read our last trip report will remember that Midge was having problems with his vision. We went to see one of the top canine ophthalmologists when we returned from Cornwall and were given the devastating news that Midge is going blind due to a progressive and untreatable degenerative condition of his retinas. The vet said he was blind in his right eye and perhaps had only 30% vision in his left. This effectively means Midge can no longer go into the mountains and must keep to easier trips from now on. I am deeply upset for him but Midge is not a dog to be inactive just because he cannot see. Being a collie activity is everything to him. If I put myself in his shoes (paws) would I want to stay at home or get out into the hills again? The answer is obvious.

One easy walk I had considered was the Cotswold Way. I had previously thought this the kind of walk you do in your dotage when you have exhausted the other possibilities but it seemed to be just the right trip for a newly blind dog. There are few campsites along the way so this would have to be a trip by B+B so I booked up and we decided to go in July – when the weather would be nice- so we could get the best out of this trip. I was not reckoning for the lost summer of 2012.

This was to be a short trip. I had intended to do it in 4 days to complete the 102 miles but The Missus said she fancied a weekend in the Cotswolds so we extended it to 5 days – this would give us a couple of easy short days but that did not really matter. We had a relatively uneventful train journey to Bath to start our trip. The only minor glitch was that a women and I had both been booked into the same seat – how can an automated train booking system get that wrong? However she wanted a table to sit at so she sat in another seat. The only thing of note was the number of people who admired Midge and how quiet and well behaved he was on the train. He is the epitome of good behaviour in a dog.

Bath was grey a drizzle when we arrived at nearly midday. We visited the Abbey to get Midge’s photo taken at the start of the way just as a herd of schoolchildren descended on him to fuss him. Midge gloried in the attention. I am a little wary of people coming up to him now he cannot see but Midge is so well tempered he just sits and accepts all the fussing and stroking.

Midge tries to attract the attention of a party of school children

We progressed up to the Royal Crescent where Midge had his picture taken again just before he was mobbed by a group of even younger children – Midge heaven! It is surprising just how much Midge enjoys this attention especially in towns where he has never been comfortable and is less so now he cannot see much.

As we reached Penn hill the rain started in earnest and full waterproofs, high humidity and high temperature ensured that I sweated as we ascended. I had been suffering from a cold before we started and this added to my sweaty state. I am sure there are some lovely views of Bath from Kelston Hill and Prospect stile but the rain and mist ensured we did not get to see them.

The Cotswold way is 102 miles long and snakes its way from Bath to Chipping Campden. It could be much shorter. I am sure they originators of the route were determined to produce a walk that was over 100 miles by making as many hairpin detours as possible to lengthen it. Some of these are justified, others are not and are pretty pointless. The first detour was around Bath racecourse and the first of many golf courses. However, Midge was enjoying being off the lead and sniffing a new area.

I was relaxing and starting to enjoy the walk, if not the rain and humidity, and  I promptly went wrong after leaving the civil war battle field by Landsdown. I realised this after a couple of hundred metres but could not be bothered to traipse back up hill so continued down and thus added a bit more to the day’s walk. I had a pork cob in my rucksac calling to me so I stopped to eat it which, anyone who reads these trips will know is unusual for me. I don’t often eat during the day. We had just had our village fete and hog roast and the hog was so big there was a lot left over. We the organisers divvied up the hog between us and the succulent meat was a real treat as I sat in the rain scoffing it.

We saw only two pairs of people doing the way. We exchanged mutual recriminations against the weather and the mud. “You have far worse ahead of you” one old Jonah said to me. Midge was already covered in red mud. The fields were sodden and there was scarcely anywhere where there was not a couple of inches to a foot of mud. The rain had flattened the hay fields where the wild flowers were struggling and a few brave Meadow Brown butterflies attempted to eke out a living between the heavier of the showers.

No one is going to let a scruffy collie into a stately home Midge - Dyrham Park

We crossed through Dyrham Park National Trust area and met our first cattle who fortunately ignored us. If cattle get feisty I have always relied on sending Midge into a different field and directing him around them with whistled commands – he is a sheepdog after all and well trained. Since he lost his sight I can no longer do this. Firstly he does not like to be very far away from me and secondly I rely on him finding his own route subject to my general instructions and he can no longer do this. We would have to see what we can do to address this if we find awkward cattle.

I found a small stream before to our B+B in the village of Tormarton and cleaned Midge up – no mean feat after 17 miles of filthy mud. On arrival at the B+B, some 3 and a half hours after setting off I towelled him dry (ish) and he looked reasonably respectable. The lady of the house was smitten with Midge, she had a Labrador but previously had a Border Collie and loved the breed and Midge was her idea of a perfect dog. The room Chestnut farm B+B was small and there was nowhere to dry our stuff but it was better than camping. All the guests that night were doing the Cotswold way and we would meet them later in the pub.

After numerous cups of tea, a rest I feed Midge and we went to the pub, the Major’s Retreat. A friend told me on hearing that I was going to the Cotswold that I could expect plenty of traditional, lovely pubs and excellent food and beer on the trip; well we shall see. The Major’s Retreat is an old stone pub in a typical stone village by the M4, so hardly quiet as the road noise intrudes considerably. The landlord is a pleasant, bluff old chap who enjoys giving advice to all. Both the beer and the food were very good the steak and black pudding pie was right up my street.

I chatted to two Canadians who were doing the way N to S and they told me of the dreadful mud they had encountered. Two retirees now living in Cyprus repeated the warning of mud and they were doubtful that we would get to Kings Stanley the next day. That section of their trip had taken them two full days and they estimated it as over 30 miles. I somehow doubted their mileage, but 30 odd miles in this mud would be a challenge.

A Dutch couple were much taken with Midge, they had 6 dogs at home in Spain where they now lived. They were doing not just the CW but were incorporating it into a Land’s End to John O’Groats trip – doing it all by B+B and having their luggage carried for them. I dreaded to ask how much that was costing them but I admired their determination to complete it.

At 9.30 Midge and I called it a day and retired to the B+B.

3rd July.

It rained most of the night but at 6am Midge gave me the cold nose treatment to tell me it was time to go for a pee. I persuaded him to wait half an hour and then we went out into the drizzle for 10 minutes until it turned to rain and we hurried back in to feed Midge.

The lady’s husband a cheerful Italian chap was on breakfast duty and being an Italian he obviously would hate to see people go out of his house underfed so the breakfast was huge and very enjoyable. Not only do you get home produced eggs here but also jam and honey. I am a new beekeeper so he and I exchanged beekeeping chat and he complained of how the dreadful summer meant he was having to feed his bees and getting no honey in exchange. I went to pay the bill in his kitchen which looked like a farm house straight out of Tuscany with hams and salami hanging from the beams.

It was straight into full waterproofs for the trip. Although it was only drizzling we had to cross fields full of crops and hay which had fallen over the footpath and we were sure to get a soaking.

A wet start

We had the first of a number of death defying road crossings to perform. This area of the UK has a relatively high population density with large places like Bath, Bristol, Stroud, Cheltenham and Oxford nearby and the whole population seems to commute in the morning. The busyness of the roads and the thoughtlessness of drivers for people walking was a real black mark against this footpath – a theme I am bound to return to later. We made it safely into Doddington Park and were soon joined by a young chap exercising his spaniel who we walked and chatted with for a mile or so until Old Sodbury.

After Hawksbury the route gives you a taster of what is to come. Having already slipped and struggled in the mud across the fields you enter a muddy, gloomy forest. There was little light today, if it had not been for the leaves on the trees I would have thought I was walking on a gloomy evening in March rather than a morning in early July. The tree canopy made it extra gloomy. The mud in the forest was even deeper, thick and black.

Gloomy wet forests and mist.

On reaching Wotton under the Edge the rain had stopped but we did not dally in this attractive town but pressed on up the hill and back into more gloomy muddy wood – but only after stopping to look at the view above Wotton – there was not really one – too much mist. We nearly got another view at the Tyndale monument a couple of miles further on. I am sure the views over the Severn are excellent but there was little to see today.

Back in to the gloom of the forest once again. This one seemed darker and even muddier than the others and I was getting pretty fed up when the route took another of its pointless detours to Stinchcombe hill to ensure maximum disappointment at no view and a tedious circumvention of a golf course. Even the golfers were not so stupid as to be out in this.

We nipped through Dursley town centre and were greeted by the local loony with his old dog. He wanted to chat but we had not time so he went off and accosted some other unfortunate person who could not out-walk him. More forest, more obscured views led us to another slip-sliding forest where the route very neatly misses out the Neolithic site that is Hetty Peglar’s Tump. I was disappointed by this; surely this actually did merit a slight detour? However the rain had stopped and we very nearly got a view from Coakley Peak. Here I was able to put Midge through his sheepdog paces sending him left and right in and out on an area of grass free from obstacles he might crash into. He loved it, it is what he was born to do. After about 10 minutes we continued towards Coakley Long Barrow with me still calling Midge his instructions. A couple had been watching Midge and commented on what an impressive sight a working collie is. I did not tell them he was blind – I had sort of forgotten, or perhaps I wished it was not true. I was still not over grieving that the poor lad was almost completely blind.

Nearly a view!

Iron Age dog

True to form we descended back into the gloom and as we left the road a stone stile and some steps proved a problem for Midge. He hopped over the stile and missed the steps and fell about 6 feet. I must remember to be more careful of him.

As we entered Kings Stanley where we were to stay at Orchardene B+B I found a cattle trough and Midge dutifully hopped in and I cleaned him up. We sat in the bus shelter (only drizzling) while I cleaned him up further with his towel. I had got him almost spotless which was a good things considering the colour scheme in the B+B.

The lady who owned the B+B was a local counsellor as was her husband who was also a beekeeper (again!). Our room was very nice; in cream! Cream carpet, walls, bed spread etc. I was glad Midge was clean but I would have to be careful of my muddy trousers. I had removed by boots fortunately.

The lady of the house invited me for tea and cake in the kitchen so after I had left my rucksack I descended the stair in my stocking feet, slipped on the polished wooden stairs and flew down them. The stairs were steep in this ancient cottage with a turn at the bottom. Fortunately (?) my hand wedged in the bannister and I stopped my rapid descent but was suspended by one trapped hand my feet about a foot above the stair. At this point the owner came out to ask me if I was alright. I made little of it as if hanging by one hand was my usual method of coming down stairs.

A shower after copious amounts of tea and a read of my book while Midge relaxed on his blanket, listening to the rain fall outside was a nice way to spend the afternoon before we looked for food. I measured the route on my GPS – 27 miles not over 30 as the two chaps in the pub had said. However, I admit I forgot to switch the GPS on until we got into Doddington Park. It had only taken us a tad over 6 hours despite the mud, so I was obviously getting over my cold.

The folks I had talked to in Tormarton told me I would not get anything to eat in Kings Stanley. Surely this could not be true. Traditional Cotswold village, old pub, there is bound to be excellent food on offer. Looking for excellent food we went to the Kings Head in the village. It boasted a coffee house (closed) and a restaurant (closed) and bar food – “no we don’t do food”. But this is the Cotswolds renowned for its’ traditional pubs with great food and beer! Not in Kings Stanley. This was a real bone of contention with the locals I talked to – a mixed group with nearly a full head of teeth between 6 of them. They gave me the history of the running down of the pub by the company which owned it, appointing managers who were not up to the job and, they feared, were running the pub down so they could close it and sell off the car park for housing. All thought it absolutely ridiculous that a large pub with a fully equipped kitchen bang on the Cotswold way could not offer food. So did I. After a chat with the bar man I persuaded him that I could go to the Chinese chippy and get some food and bring it back. So this I did and he even provided me with a plate and knife and fork. Fortunately the beer and cider was very good but the fish and chips were not – greasy with that taste that tells you that the frying oil has been in there too long.

Midge enjoyed the pub. One of the local had a collie cross who apparently was not too good with other dogs but he loved Midge and Midge, who is never really bothered by other dogs, also wanted to play so they rolled and wrestled with each other on the floor – something that is very rare for Midge and so rare for the other dog that his owner took photos with his phone to record the event.

We left the pub at 8.45pm as did all the locals except one. It is a shame this pub is not better run, it could really make a handsome living for someone.

Back in the B+B Midge was all in after the long day, the mud and the wrestling. I was feeling decidedly upbeat – perhaps it was that Black Rat Cider which I am told is 7.5% - good job I only had the one.

4th July Kings Stanley to Coberley

Midge was so tired he did not wake up until my alarm went off at 6.30 but he instantly ran to my bed to give me the cold nose treatment. I soaked his dried food and we went CAREFULLY down the stairs and out into the drizzle so he could have a pee then raced back once again as the rain fell.

The breakfast was excellent as I thought it would be, these people seem to have an attention to detail and I recommend Orchardene to you. The bacon was very good and the lady of the house expressed her desire to make her own after I had told her I made my own bacon, sausages, black pudding etc, so I left her with a recipe and web address for bacon cure.

We set off at 8.30 and once again we had to negotiate dreadfully busy roads and the first hour was accompanied by the growl of traffic. This was beginning to be the soundtrack to this walk, not the Elgar or Vaughan-Williams I imagined and which accompanies the images of the Cotswolds on the telly – perhaps they should use Stockhausen to accompany it.

The steady drizzle prevented me from taking off my jacket and the vegetation ensured I kept my overtrousers on so I sweater up hill into Standish Woods and once again into the mud. I went to take a picture of Midge, it being dark the flash came on automatically, the resulting photo was completely obscured by the density of the moisture in the air. The humidity was almost 100% making wearing any Goretex pretty pointless. Fortunately the rain stopped by the time we reached the hill at Shortwood and once again I was able to give Midge a sheepdog exercise session. As we were in mid flow two horrible little pugs ran up to Midge yapping and snapping at him, racing in at him from different directions. Poor Midge could not see them as they ran up behind him intending to, but too scared to bite him. I could have kicked these ugly little b*****ds around the field. Midge became scared and confused unable to see his tormentors. They with their deformed heads and bugged eyes with perfect vision and my beautiful blind boy scared of their stupid asthmatic yapping. Their owner eventually came to collect these travesties of man’s infliction on the canine world and we continued.

The mist prevents the use of flash

It is better without

My mood did not improve as we had another pointless detour in muddy woods once again. The rain stopped as we went through old quarries with lots of sensational wildflowers until we crossed the road near the Edgemoor Inn and followed the path into Painswick.

Painswick looks like a very prosperous and attractive town but we did not take time to look around. Any town or big village is a source of anxiety for Midge now he cannot see. All traffic makes him nervous. We continued on to yet another golf course and the sun came out! I decided to stop on a seat near a wide mown area to have a drink and let Midge play with his ball. I have a bright fluorescent yellow ball for him which is new and smells strongly of rubber so he can find it and we spent a while throwing it. I have to throw it low to the ground ahead of him. He can still see some movement and loves to chase his ball but if I throw it too far ahead of him he cannot see it. Then we must switch to me directing him towards his ball by his sheepdog commands until he finds it by scent.

The sunshine did not last long and by the time we had reached Cranham Corner the drizzle returned and we plunged back in to the gloom and mud we were now accustomed to in the woods. This section made we wonder why I was doing this walk at all. The mist obscured what view we might have got had the trees not been in leaf and the mud sucked on our feet (paws) and we slipped and skidded our way. One could see the tracks of others as they had skidded in the mud and the occasional impact crater was visible where some poor person had been unable to keep upright. It is not as though there was any different mud to provide a diversion or interest, just more and more of the same, thick cloying mud. Perhaps worse than any of this was what happened to Midge. We were walking along when I heard a loud plopping sound I looked around and saw a pigeon, pheasant or ostrich had done and enormous poo on Midge. It was huge: how could a bird have done such an enormous poo?! I suspected it was aimed at me but poor Midge copped for it. It took some time and much use of leaves and sticks to get this out of his dense fur.

Midge and the giant poo

After too many miles we exited the woods again on at a cark park giving superb views – and it was not raining and the mist had cleared. There were the Malvern hills, the Cotswolds and, with a bit of imagination, the Black Mountains and the Brecon Beacons (well may be too much imagination). We now had to make a detour to our B+B in Coberley and I chose to link up with the Gloucestershire way but first we had to deal with the A417 which was a near death experience.

A view!!!!!!

Well over half way

The road meets a roundabout at this point. The heavy traffic races downhill towards the roundabout. There was no pavement on the side we need to get to so we had to cross opposite the footpath sign. The traffic exiting the roundabout has a crawler lane which starts just at the point we had to cross. The volume of traffic was immense despite it being about 1pm. We waited an age, there was no way we were going to make it in one go. A lull allowed us to get into the cross hatched section in the middle where we stopped as a lorry lumbered off the roundabout and uphill. At this point a BMW who obviously knew there was a crawler lane burst out from behind the lorry onto the cross hatched area we were standing on straight for us. Obviously he was not expecting to see pedestrians there and for a moment I thought he was going to hit us. He braked hard we stepped back and he flew past yelling and waving his fist at us. Dear Mr BMW driver, I did not get your number but 1) you were on an area of the road you should not have been on, 2) you overtook when you could not see what was ahead, 3) you are a total tw*t. We dashed over the last bit of road, my heart thumping in my chest.

On the positive side, the weather was bright and we soon got onto a lovely bridleway to Coberley. On entering the village there was a nice clear stream so I gave Midge a good bath. We were hopelessly early (2pm) and there was no one in the Old Post office where we were to stay tonight. I found a seat on the village green and polished Midge up with his towel. We wandered around the village but I could not go far for fear Midge would get dirty again and I like to arrive with a clean dog. After about an hour I phoned the B+B and left a message. It started to rain so we dodged under a tree. If the rain increased in fore we would have to take shelter in the phone box. The rain stopped again and the B+B owner told me they were at home so I double checked Midge and we went to check in.

Waiting to get inot the B+B

I had said to Midge that this was the most expensive night of the trip and I hoped it lived up to the price – it did. The Old post office does not allow dogs in the rooms but they do have two dogs of their own and make dogs welcome downstairs. The place it a bit of a tardis; it looks small but is much bigger inside. I was greeted with tea, cakes and a pot of home grown strawberries and blueberries in my own sitting/dining room where Midge could join me. I had a huge room and bathroom. Fresh cherries and flapjack were in the room along with an excellent choice of teas and coffee. This was B+B on a smart scale!

Midge made friends with the owners two girls, one was an old girl of 16 blind and deaf who preferred her blanket than talk to her house guest. The younger one took to Midge. After I had showered and fed Midge we sat in my sitting room reading until I thought I had better eat. The options were laid before me by the B+B owner. There was a pub within walking distance, it did not take dogs (she had already phoned and checked for me), she was prepared to drive me to a pub about 3 miles away where the food was very good but she had a meeting that evening and could not say when she could pick me up for sure – and they did not take dogs. I opted to walk to the nearest.

The Severn Springs or the Hungry Horse as it is also known proved to be an alien environment to me. In short I would describe it as MacDonald’s with a bar – not that I know much about MacDonald’s. I had one once and that was one time too many for me. I was suspicious from the start – all fizzy beer taps but hidden was a single hand-pull of Old Speckled Hen which proved to be surprisingly good. As I went to find a seat I saw there was to be a children’s birthday party in one room. I passed the wall of fame. In order to get on to the wall of fame you have to have eaten either a 40oz steak or a 40oz chocolate cake. There were the pictures of a host of now famous fatties arteries clogged, red faced and beaming at their heroic endeavours. Sod the Olympics let’s see a few over eating contests – show the real spirit of Britain.

I looked at the menu which had things like a fat filled 18 inch curled onion ring on a specially designed stand to break off and dip in neat sticky sugary syrup flavoured with a variety of chemicals – they provided three different ones. The menu was really inventive in just how much fat and sugar and so few ingredients of nutritional value one can put in some thing and call it food. I had to play safe.

I chose a tomato soup and a steak – medium rare - but doubted they would get the cooking right. As I waited for my soup a huge family, average BMI of around 40 arrived, in fact I was feeling rather underweight, I felt like I was in a club exclusive to those with a BMI of 30 or over, a training house for type two diabetics. It was the older girl’s 18th birthday. They ran over to the cabinet with huge cakes in and coohed and aahed over them and admired the people on the wall of fame. I am not sure what the girl was drinking now she was of age but it was a violent blue colour.

In this place there are vending machines of food, toys and even adult focused toys – sunglasses, gaming machines and satnavs. The kids arriving for the party were constantly badgering their parents to buy them this and that as they raced from one machine to another with their limited attention span. There were also games to play which was another source of demand. The kids were moved into another room but it could not prevent the screams, crying and demands from filling the rest of the building.

My soup arrived and tasted savoury – that is all I can say about it. I could not tell you what was in it. On the menu it was supposed to be soup and a roll. It came with half a pre-frozen, part-baked baguette which had been microwaved. Some fool obviously did not know that this was part baked dough and needed to be baked – I doubt they actually had an oven. So I ate the soup and ignored the hot steaming dough.

My steak arrived – seared on the outside. I cut into it expecting it to be over-done – medium rare as I asked. I was surprised. I looked more closely at the steak. The seared outside was hard as though it had been coated with something – it had a hard, glassy sheen. I tasted the steak and it tasted of ---- nothing! It was mainly water. I started to suspect that the supposedly appetising seared exterior had been applied in a factory and the steak had just been heated up. I resolved to down my meal and leave and not give them further custom. It would fuel the next day at least. By now the shouting in the next room was reaching fever pitch. The 18th party was getting going with a pitcher of frighteningly vivid coloured liquid. On paying my tab I noticed that the place also offered gifts (to purchase) for children that had “been good” – toys along with tooth rotting sweets – after all those chemicals they serve I am not surprised the kids were climbing the walls.

I have never been in a place like this before and this hopefully is the only time I will have to do so. I returned to the sanity of my sitting room and my dog.

Coberley to Winchcombe

This was to be a short day so no need to get up early. Midge had to sleep down stairs; although he did open the door and sneak upstairs to my door and was shepherded back by the owner. By the time I got up the owner had let him out for a pee and given him a drink. I fed him and then waited to see what delights were on offer for breakfast. Stewed rhubarb (which I love), fresh strawberries from their garden, blue berries, fresh squeezed orange juice or apple juice, the usual cereals, various preserves, very good wholemeal toast, a huge cooked breakfast with very high quality bacon, sausage and black pudding and lashings of tea. Excellent!

I can see for miles!

We set off after 8.30 – I did no record the time and forgot to set my GPS until about half an hour into the journey. The first thing we had to do was to negotiate the dreadful A436 past the awful Severn Springs – scene of the previous night’s food. We then had to cross the A435 to get back onto the Way. The traffic was too dense to get across as we waited and waited in the refuge in the middle (at least there was one this time). Eventually a courteous Dutch driver stopped to let us cross – Danke vell!

The path was high up and not so muddy, although in Lineover wood a fellow walker coming towards us went flying and landed flat on his back. Then the sun came out!!!! I was so overjoyed I got Midge into position to have his photo taken. I crouched down in the grass and was immediately bitten by a horse fly. Don’t you just love the English summer? The sun had brought the horse flies out and I was doomed to get half a dozen bites today.

Sun comes out and I get bitten by a horse fly

We circled Cheltenham with excellent views in all directions eventually heading for Cleeve hill where the views are the best of the whole trip – no woods, open fields and sun – just what I needed. I say this but there may have been views elsewhere, I just never got to see them. Once we were up on Cleeve Hill we stopped to play ball, Midge had been so good and the short cropped grass made an excellent venue for him to chase his ball. There is yet another long circuitous detour around a golf course but I did not mind at all now the sun was out. We had a good long play, we were only going to Winchcombe and were very nearly there so we could take our time. At the present rate we would be there before 1pm.

The lovely Cleeve Hill

I'm on top of the world Dad (Cleeve hill anyway)

After the openness of Cleeve hill I did no mind the woods for a brief spell. On exiting the woods I gave Midge a good long game of sheepdog. I saw a chap waving to me and hurrying towards me. He arrive a little sweaty and asked me if all was OK, he had thought I was shouting and whistling to attract his attention – he could not see Midge because of the slope in the ground. I gave him a demo of Midge’s working skills then called Midge in to meet him. He of course was very impressed. I told him Midge was blind “Never! Impossible!” but he then could see his eyes. He had thought Midge rather remarkable but now he was even more so “It is so tragic that such a lovely dog is blind” he said with some emotion in his voice. “Very tragic.” and he fussed Midge some more.

We said goodbye and carried on to Belas Napp long barrow which was well work the visit but stopping meant we were plagued again by horse flies so we kept on and found another more open spot to view Winchcombe and try not to arrive too early. Despite our efforts we failed and I was washing Midge in the stream in the town at 1pm. I dried him off and we went to the Plaisterers arms for a pint and to check in. We sat in their excellent garden and I was pretty sure I had made the right decision to stay here. I had a very nice sandwich as we chatted to a couple on the next table who were interested in Midge. They each fussed him and the lady asked about his eyes. I told her he was blind and her eyes filled up “But he is so beautiful and so well behaved” unfortunately that is not enough to make him immune to fate. She fussed Midge all the more after this.

Belas Napp

A beer in the Plaisterers Arms

We checked in and got our room, the smallest, dingiest and least cared for so far – but hey! It is better than camping and we had the run of the whole garden at any time. A shower, rest and tea – the little cartons of milk were out of date and pure smelly cheese. I was getting a downer on this place. I went out to buy milk. On the main street a voice rang out “Please may I fuss your dog?” and elderly lady called out to me and ran up to Midge and hugged him. “I lost my tricolour border collie last week and saw your dog and I just had to come and give him a cuddle” she spent some time cuddling Midge and he reciprocated. Her dog had died the previous week and was sorely missed and she tearfully held on to Midge. After a while she stood up and apologised but she thought Midge looked so beautiful she just knew he would let her cuddle him.

Milk bought we returned to our room. One saving grace, it did have a patio of our own so I was able to wash things through and dry them in the sun. After our rest we had to go for another walk. A patch of ground served as an arena to play sheepdog for a good long while by which time it was time to feed Midge and myself. The food in the Plaisterers was actually very good and the beer excellent – pity about the room. We relaxed in the garden, there were few other customers.

Before retiring for a final beer I took Midge for another walk and played sheepdog on the field. A lady was walking her dog and stopped to watch us, she told me how marvellous Midge was. I called him in and she noticed his eyes and asked about them. I told her his story and once again she could hardly believe that a dog could do what Midge can do blind and thought the world a very unfair place that such a beautiful and intelligent dog could go blind. I agreed with her, but there is nothing that can be done to right this particular wrong.

Winchcombe to Chipping Campden
It started raining that night and in the morning normal service was resumed and it shucked it down all day. We were heading to the end today and I estimated it would not take more than 3or so hours and so was the case. There was only one muddy wood en route but lots of wet hay fields – not chance of getting hay from these for the foreseeable future.

Back to the usual

Pretty gate at Stanway - no nails used

We passed though the pretty village of Stanway having avoided a field full of cows, calves and a very large bull. I am sure they would have been OK but I always look for escape routes now and the thick hedge with strong wire showed there would be none for Midge if there was a problem so we chose the adjacent field – as many others had done judging by the foot prints.
Misty poppy field

At Stanton we met hoards of people setting out – I counted at least 20 in total. This was the only busy period on the whole route.
The ridge leading to Buckland wood was in thick mist which was a shame, Im am sure there are good views from there but a poppy filed caught my eye for a photo.
The Missus and I were staying at Broadway for a couple of days so I opted to miss that out and took a different route from Buckland Wood up to Broadway tower through mud of course. We dutifully took photos at the Broadway tower. I played sheepdog with Midge until we crossed the A44.

Broadway tower
The rest of the route is over muddy fileds and a lovely long ride of grass but there is the inevitable detour at Dover hill just to make sure the CW does get over the 100 miles mark. Mind you the view is good - if you get one. it started to rain in earnest once more which seemed a fitting way to end this trip - to end in sun would have been out of character.
The Missus texted me to say she had arrived in Chipping Campden.  so we looked for her car which we found near the Market Hall. Route completed.

A wet end to a wet trip

Thursday 3 May 2012

South Cornwall Coastal Path

I was struggling to find routes to do this time. Most of the ones I really wanted to do were too long to get done in a week and most of the other attractive routes were much less than one week. As those of you who have read our other stories will know Midge and I like to get about 150 to 180 miles done in a week backpacking, anything shorter than this and we get a bit fractious.

I have walked much of the South west coastal path (SWCP) over the years but I have never done it as a single expedition. At over 650 miles the SWCP is a major undertaking and must rank as one of the best walks in Europe. I decided to do the section from Land’s End to Plymouth. I knew the area around Land’s End well having been there many times rock climbing and The Missus and I had holidayed in Cornwall and the Lizard many times. A little short of 160 miles with plenty of up and down this would suit for a week-long trip and I had never done any of the section between Helford and the Rame Peninsular. Doing a coastal path sounds like and easy option compared to a cross country mountain route but according to the best information I could get the ascent on this section is about 9200 metres, compare that with the Coast to Coast (180 miles) of just under 7000 metres and you can appreciate this is no easy journey.

It looked like it was going to be expensive to get there and back; the mysteries of train booking and fare structure make their regular appearance in this blog. I kept looking at the price of a ticket from Melton to Penzance, it remained stubbornly at £114 single. I had made my decision to go and The Missus told me to book it “irrespective of the price” (not a phrase heard from her very often). It looked like I was going to have to submit to the extortion of the railways. I logged on to the website £37.50!! How and why the price had dropped over night I do not know but I booked it before they changed their minds. The fare back from Plymouth had come down from £120 to £88 one way but by booking a ticket from Plymouth to Birmingham then Birmingham to Melton I got it for £27.50. There are no greater mysteries in the world than this, the form and structure of Dark Matter is as nothing compared to the UK train pricing system.

Saturday 14th April

Midge was happy to get on the train to Birmingham and he did not seem to mind New Street station quite as much as he usually does. In his older age he seems a little more relaxed about travelling. We had just got off the train when a lady approached us “Is it Paul and Midge?” she asked. I confirmed our identity. The lady was Lorraine a person who was part of the Wiccaweys family of border collie owners. Lorraine, her partner and Meg her collie were also heading to Land’s End only they were to travel in the opposite direction as they heroically set off on their Land’s End to John O’Groats. We went down to the platform and met Meg who told Midge in no uncertain terms that she would re-arrange his features and remove those stupid oversized ears from the top of his bouffant hair-do. We wished them good luck and went to the opposite end of the platform. (Unfortunately they were eventually battered into submission by the weather and suspended their journey until the conditions improved).

Interestingly Lorraine and co had embarked our train from Melton near Stansted and were en-route to the same destination of Penzance. However, my ticket required me to leave the Plymouth train at Exeter whereas Lorraine was to travel to Plymouth. I then had to catch the Penzance train which Lorraine would join later – strange.

The train to Exeter was crowded but we had booked a seat. I found it and was just settling Midge in when a grumpy old git said “That is my seat!” I smiled and told him I had a reservation. “Not that seat this seat”, he snapped as he pointed to the seat next to me “And your dog is in the way. Get it out of here!” I explained that he had every right to be on the train and if he only gave me a minute Midge would go under my seat and be out of his way. “Get your dog out of there, he can’t sit down with that dog there, it shouldn’t be on the train, put it in the guard’s van where it belongs!” a woman of a similar age I took to be his wife butted in. I repeated that Midge had every right to travel and Midge wriggled under the seat out of the way. “Dogs should be banned from trains!” said Mr Grumpy as he sat next to me “I would sooner they banned grumpy people” I retorted and we sat in silence. Midge did not stir for the rest of the journey.

For your information dear reader a railway ticket entitles you to take a dog, a cat and a basket of fowls with you. At moments like this I wish I had remembered the basket of fowls.

Part way through the journey Mr Grumpy fell asleep and lolled with his head on my shoulder. He woke up with a start and mumbled an apology. “It’s OK” I said in a syrupy voice “I thought you were straight”. This witticism seemed lost on him but he looked a bit worried for the rest of the journey. He left at Taunton and I noticed the old bag who had been so vocal was not with him, so was nothing to do with him, other than wanting to put her oar in. She changed seats as people left and immediately put her bag on the seat next to her to deter anyone else sitting there as the passengers crowded on. Hypocrite. A young guy sat next to me and saw Midge’s foot sticking out. “You got a dog?” I said I had “Cool!” he replied and he reached under the seat to make a fuss of Midge; how pleasing and how different.

We left the train in Exeter in the company of an elderly Somerset company who were also off to Cornwall for their holiday. They fussed Midge as we prepared to disembark. As is often our experience on these trips they cuddled Midge as they told us of their recently departed Labrador, the lady dabbing her eyes and apologising for being so soft. They sat on a bench on the platform while the lady continued to cuddle Midge. As soon as the lady had herself settled she reached into her large handbag and brought out a plastic bottle of pre-mixed whisky and lemonade and poured it into a glass specially brought along for the occasion. “I like to have drink with my lunch” she said and brought out a large pack of sandwiches to go with her aperitif. She was of a size which suggested she had probably enjoyed a substantial breakfast and after this significant lunch would be enjoying an even larger dinner later.

On leaving Plymouth the weather showed the shape of things to come. Hail rattled the windows intermittently between the torrential downpours. The steep fields of Cornwall were running with water and the soaked ground was unable to absorb the onslaught. Streams ran a dirty reddish colour, choked with soil washed from the fields. “This is not a good start” I said to Midge.

There would be a bit of a delay between the train’s arrival in Penzance and the bus to Land’s End. Meg had already made her opinion of Midge known so I thought it would be best to avoid sharing the bus. I therefore phoned a cab and we were met at the station for our transfer to Land’s End. Tony the taxi driver was a garrulous individual and kept up a constant stream of conversation. After 20 minutes he dropped us off at the dreadful Land’s End Experience. The heavy clouds were gathering, the wind was increasing and the temperature was dropping. Midge was bursting for a pee poor lad after such a long journey.

We headed to the famous signpost, a group of bikers were lining up for an official photo before they headed north. They commandeered Midge as a mascot for their photo and he enjoyed all the attention as they fussed him. I told him to sit and he had his photo taken with them. I took his sitting proudly between powerful motor bikes and leather-clad lads and lasses.

It is an easy journey from Land’s End to Treen where we were to camp; there was little sense in going any further tonight. It would mean a long day tomorrow but if the forecast was to be believed we were going to have some sun.

The keen wind increased as were progressed to Porthgwarra until it started the first of the batterings that were to be a feature of this trip. The sky darkened and a ferocious hailstorm covered the ground with pea sized ice to the depth of over half an inch in minutes. I pulled my hat and hood down and made sure all exposed skin was covered from the stinging hail. Midge unfortunately could not cover his tender black button nose from the pain of the hail and he cuddled close to me to shelter this most tender of his parts.

The paths were dreadfully muddy and Midge was filthy in minutes. We nipped down to Nanzijal Bay once the hail retreated to leave vigorous wind driven drizzle in its place. It was here that Midge’s problems were made manifest for the first time. Midge is becoming blind. This is rather distressing for both of us. Midge still wants to perform his sheepdog training tricks and loves to run and leap over objects but he can no longer do it. At home you would scarcely notice, he is so familiar with our regular walks that he knows every stile, ditch and fence but here in Cornwall he was struggling with rocks and steps to the beach and his lack of sight was made clear. The problems started years ago. We were invited to stay with friends and Midge was included in the invitation. The friends had cats but we were reassured that they were fine with dogs and there would be no problem. This was not at all the case. The tom cat of the house objected to Midge’s presence immediately and attacked Midge in a flurry of claws. Midge retaliated but I told Midge “No!” so the poor boy just stood there and took it all – totally obedient to his Dad. The first attack did no real damage and we managed to keep the two of them apart. The next day I went upstairs and Midge wondered where I had gone. He put his head around the door and the cat attacked and scraped its claws straight across his right eyeball. This instigated a reaction in his eye resulting in a cataract making him gradually blind in that eye. He now was developing a cataract in the left eye further restricting his vision.

I was to realise on this trip just how little Midge could actually see. I reckoned that he had only about one third of his field of vision left. I had bought him a bright fluorescent yellow ball so he could see it better and I would have to make sure he kept pretty close to me on the cliff-edges.

The torrential rain had reduced to a fast drizzle and Midge was filthy. We arrived at the excellent Treen campsite. Should I put the tent up now (5pm) or go to the pub and hope it would dry up a little? I booked in with the very friendly young lad and the drizzle abated a little so I positioned my tent out of the wind and went into the shop for a welcome cup of tea. I was not sure of the price of the campsite but when I said I was backpacking on the SWCP the price was a fiver – excellent value!

I had been looking forward to go to the Logan’s Rock Inn, I used to frequent this place when down here climbing and remembered it as an excellent place to eat and drink. We went down the dreadfully muddy lane to the pub and Midge added a little more filth to his fur. The pub was empty except for a three people at one table. All the other tables in the bar had reserved signs on them. I asked if I could sit at one as the table was not booked until 8.30 – it was just after 6. I was told I could not just in case the people came early! I asked if there was anywhere to sit to have a meal. There was room in the upper bar but you would have to be out by 8.30 but your dog can’t go in there. This seemed strange. Eventually I was directed to the cheerless and cold family room.

I had a pint – for the princely sum of £3.70 and ordered the house special fish pie with “locally sourced fish” at £10.75. The thing arrived nuclear hot from the microwave – I knew this because the contents were super-heated and the bowl was just warm. Now I don’t know how long Salmon has been a Cornish fish but I figured locally source could have meant from the local Aldi. If there was 4 ounces of fish I would have been surprised. This was in white glue and covered with more mush in the shape of semi liquid mashed potato. After I had eaten the waitress came to remove the plate and gave a vacuous “Everything alright for you?” I told her that it was fortunate that I had made myself a very hearty packed lunch so the portion size was sufficient for someone who was not starving thank you. “No problem” was her deaf-eared reply.

I sat in this miserable place watching the rain fall until I thought it time to leave as the rain showed no sign of stopping. The evening was improved a little by chatting to a lovely couple from Ireland now resident in north Wales. They were rock-climbers so we had a great chat about climbing and they asked me about the nature of the local routes and sought recommendations – if the rain stopped.

I corralled Midge onto his mat in the tent; the poor lad was wet and filthy. I told him he had to stop there all night and no moving off it. Unfortunately he did so he got told off in the early hours which upset him for the next few hours; he hates his Dad telling him off and is inconsolable.

The wind blew and the hail rattled the tent. Tonight was the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic and I knew a short distance from me at the open-air Miniack theatre a sell out crowd were sitting in the teeth of the storm to watch Titanic the Musical which was to start at 10.30pm and at 11.40, the exact time of the collision with the iceberg, the audience would be experiencing the conditions all those years ago on that bleak night first hand. According to Tony the taxi driver the producer was intending to flood the front few rows of seats to get a bit of audience participation. He need not have bothered, I reckoned they would be flooded already.

 Sunday 15th April
The morning was cold and a thin northerly wind cut through us. The tent was damp but the forecast was for a dry and sunny day. Sunny maybe, but not warm. I fed Midge and decided not to have anything myself but to eat in either Mousehole or Penzance. We had a nice long day ahead of us. I was heading for Praa Sands on the opposite side of the Bay. We returned to the path and what a different view from the previous day! Blue seas and blue skies, it deserved a photo. I stopped to take a picture and could not find my camera. I turned out my rucksack and looked in every pocket. Nothing! I retraced my steps all the way to the campsite but could find nothing. I was very annoyed with myself but there was nothing I could do about it. I would have to buy a disposable camera in Penzance.

My gloomy mood was made more so by Midge’s stumbling, tripping and walking into objects because of his poor sight. I had to shake this feeling off. I was on the coast path in the sun with my lovely lad; what else would I rather be doing? On the easier sections Midge trotted on ahead but if he lagged behind I stopped to make sure he was OK and knew where I had gone. His nose and ears are very acute and he never took a wrong turn but all the same, where the path was near to edge, such as coming into Lamorna Cove, I made sure he was right by me.

We were in Penzance in no time and even though it was Sunday most of the shops were open so I was able to get a couple of disposable cameras. I also had my breakfast – a pasty. This was to be the defy Chancellor George Osbourne trip – eat as many pasties as I could manage. The Cornish were very upset about the VAT to be added to this most traditional of their snacks.

Midge was walking on my right side as we walked down the high street to the front and regular boings! bore witness to his poor vision as he walked into metal lampposts and set them ringing with his head.

We were just crossing the road by the railway station when I heard my name called and there was Tony the taxi driver at the rank. “You’re going the wrong way!” he called. I went over to chat to him and he directed me to the “right” way. This proved to be along the breakwater eventually leading to a locked gate. A scramble over rocks and a jump down a wall eventually got me onto the footpath I had been told to leave. Lesson – never take footpath directions from a bloke who sits in a car all day.

The path was very easy and flat for the next 6 or more miles. Most of the beaches we had passed that day said clearly NO DOGS so it was great to find a beach that did allow Midge to stretch his legs and race around. We had a good long time throwing his ball as we went along the beach around to Marazion, Midge raced around wildly doing his sheepdog tricks and chasing his ball. Nearing Marazion the restrictions returned so we went up onto the prom. Midge was by my side on the left off the lead but then he gradually got ahead of me as he often does. He was walking along and I was not watching him closely when he disappeared off the prom and fell about 8 feet onto the beach. He had not seen the edge! Fortunately he landed softly and he was unharmed except for having a mouth full of sand. The poor lad looked bewildered. Where did the floor go?

St Michael's Mount - I finally take a picture!

It was easy walking all the way to Perranuthoe and it had only taken a little under 4 hours to get this far and Praa Sands was an easy hour or so further on so we stopped at a teashop for a cuppa. Even so we still arrived in Praa Sands by 2.30.

Only ones camping at Praa Sands

The only campsite open was the one at the top of the hill. We slogged up there and found no sign of anyone so we pitched in the most sheltered spot we could find; the strong chilling wind was still going strong.  I had a shower and still there was no one. We played ball. Midge riffled out his ball as I was sitting in the shelter of the tent reading. Despite his poor eyesight he is pretty accurate when it comes to throwing the ball through the tent flap to bounce off my head. I threw the ball, he chased it then threw it back into the tent. On our way to look for an evening meal for me we finally found someone to pay. I said my usual “one man, one dog, one small backpacking tent” I was asked if I was walking the SWCP and after the affirmative it was a fiver again – even though the price list said £9 for a small tent with up to 2 people.

Play with me Dad!

We went to the Sandbar pub, not really a pub more a bar which would feel well at home on the beach in California or Australia. The food and beer in this place were excellent. The views are superb and the staff were great. I could not fault this place.

A middle aged couple came in with a border collie pup. People who had previously fussed Midge oohed and aahed over this bundle of fluff. “She is a pedigree, we got her from a very good dealer with an excellent reputation” the woman said loudly, repeatedly and unbidden by all those who petted the pup. I wondered if she was only saying that because Midge was at the next table. The pup was running them through its’ paws. It demanded and it got. Eventually it leapt on the table to grab food and instead of being put in its place it was picked up and cuddled and fed chips from its owners’ plates. If ever there is a wrong thing to do with a border collie these idiots were demonstrating it. It looked depressingly like it was on its way to the rescue home in 3 months.

It was a very cold night, the northerly wind kept up all night but we were dry and cosy in our tent.


A big day today not only in distance but also in the amount of ascent and descent. The feature of this path is the up and down. Most inland paths follow a logical route making the best use of the land to not only get from A to B but also in a way to reduce the effort required. Over the years footpaths developed in a logical way. Not so the coast path, it follows the coast so what the coast does, it does. The path goes up, not to get anywhere, it does so only so that it may come down again to repeat the process. This constant rollercoaster gets very wearing towards the end of the day. The maps do not really make it very clear where the gradients are and there is little point in looking ahead along the bay as hidden rises and falls are tucked away. What looks like a relatively gentle rolling stroll may well disguise precipitous drops to the beach and back up the headland.  This section did all this and it also packed in a tiring walk on Porthleven sands.

The morning was still – no wind. Which unfortunately meant the tent was wet with condensation so I opened it up to dry. I always try and pack up my tent dry and if I cannot I try and dry it as soon as I can. There is little more dispiriting than putting up a wet tent and getting in it wet, in the rain.

After Midge had eaten we broke camp and once again a drink of water was breakfast enough for me. I would eat in Porthleven. We were in Porthleven in no time and I bought a pasty and a drink and sat by the harbour eating it. The pasty was very good. We met very few people on the route today so were alone for much of it – something I really enjoy.

Early morning play on the beach

By the time we reached Mullion by feet were feeling a bit tired. I had broken in a different pair of boots for this trip but on the first wet day they leaked like a sieve. This was only a few days before the trip so I had to buy a pair of Merrills and pretty much wear them straight out of the box. Fortunately they were great but my feet were still to get used to them. In my tiredness I completely forgot to take a photograph as we rounded The Lizard – where we were in the crowds. My feet were really aching by the time we entered the picture perfect village of Cadgwith. It was still only lunchtime so I stopped for a single pint (honest). The pub was excellent and I wondered about eating here this evening, my campsite was under 2 miles on the road from here.

Familiar Cornish Scene

We continued to Kennack Sands with a bit more energy and again flogged up the road to the campsite. Campsites are always up hill in Cornwall I was learning.

We booked in with a slightly camp young lad who once again charged us only a fiver on learning we were backpacking. I don’t know if this is official policy in Cornwall but I was starting to like it. It was over cast and very, very cold. The promise of a westerly wind had not materialised and the north wind continued. We tried to get out of the wind as best we could.

I left Midge guarding the tent (Welcome all thieves, take what you want as long as you give me a fuss) and went for a shower. The PA system in the building kept up a constant stream of 80s music mainly Pet Shop Boys, George Michael, Michael Jackson, Communards, Sylvester (OK 70s) – I started to worry about bending for the soap. This was a feature of the place all day and evening.

Midge guards the tent while I check out the gay disco scene

Midge was ready for another walk and I wanted to look out the options for eating. We had a play on the beach; yes, despite around 25+ miles and umpteen thousand feet of ascent Midge was ready to run around.

The only option for food was the Potter’s Bar and what a strange place it was. I find it hard to describe but if you could imagine a teenager who wanted a pub for his mates to come around in the 1980s and it sort of continued into 2012 that was the Potter’s Bar. If the Royles (As in Royle family TV show) ran a pub this is what it would be like. Various old bits of furniture, massive flat screen TV, pool table, karaoke machine. Fortunately it did food and half decent cider (no good beer only lager) and had a cosy stove by the bar. I called in to gauge the place and chatted to the landlord and his wife who were nice people if rather chaotic.

I returned later and had fish and chips with mushy peas which was good. The barman was losing money rapidly on his mobile phone through spot betting on the Arsenal match and spent most of the night looking at the big screen, cursing and trying to recoup his losses with another bet only to lose more. I cannot understand betting, if I lose money betting I feel a proper prat and that is reason enough for me not to get hooked.

I had promised Midge another walk but it was brief owing to the cold and freezing wind. And so to bed.

Tuesday 17th

It rained in the night with high winds but by morning it had stopped and the wind had dropped, which meant the tent stayed wet. I decided to open the tent to dry and went to wash and brush up in the gay disco (toilet block) while the tent dried off. I was only in there with the Bee Gees for a few minutes and when I came out everything was soaking wet. A short sharp deluge had wet everything. I waited a little longer as it seemed to be drying again and the same thing happened so I gave up and packed it up wet.

Midge and I played on the beach again on the way out. I had noticed my knee had swollen the night before and it felt stiff this morning. This was not helped by the amount of up and down we were to do today. Nevertheless we made excellent time to Chynhallis Point but then the path deteriorated, wet muddy rock, very slippery. I slipped and twisted my knee a couple of times and wished I had brought walking poles. This was without doubt the worst section of the whole route and I was happy when it was over. We arrived in Coverack at 9.30 having taken less than an hour to get there and nothing was open so no breakfast pasty for me. I had only had a drink of water so supplemented this with some trail mix.

The morning always starts with playing on the beach

I caught up with a couple of people nearing Dean Point. The first I tried to engage in conversation but the poor chap had such a dreadful stammer he almost fell over in the effort to speak so I wished him luck and trotted past him. The second was an older chap who asked up where we were going to and from and thought we must be superhuman (hardly!).

We went through the ugly quarry and Dean point and it is here that the route goes inland to avoid more quarries. Indeed with the exception of a brief visit to Porthoustock you keep off the coast until Porthallow. We arrived in Porthallow well before 11, too early for the pub and nowhere else was open so we pressed on. It was now that it started raining heavily.

The walking from Porthallow to Gillan harbour is easy and we raced along in the rain and gales. The tide was out so we were able to cross the estuary easily, although Midge insisted in making a return trip swimming across, finally completing the crossing over the stepping stones for good measure. I was wondering whether to take off my waterproof because the sun had come out when, despite the bright sunshine, it started hammering it down. We headed for Dennis Head and the heavens really opened and the wind almost knocked us off our feet. We scurried behind a wall and found an old couple hiding there too so we chatted while the storm abated.
The crossing point at Gillan

The woodland walk to Helford was like the Somme, we slipped and skidded our way through what I am sure is a wonderful walk in spring with the wild flowers, but today it was a job keeping on your feet. We were covered in thick black mud in no time. We were black and dripping when we arrived in Treath where an old Chapel has been converted into a tea shop. It said Dogs Welcome. I said to Midge there is a welcome for dogs but there might not be a welcome for wet-through black muddy dogs so I went inside to enquire. The two young women running the place could not have been more welcoming and insisted Midge came in and he was given biscuits and water. I had a sensational Crab sandwich and a pot of tea and I highly recommend this place.

When we left the rain had stopped and we continued to the ferry and turned the marker to let the ferryman on the opposite bank know we wanted to cross. I threw a stick in the water for Midge and he dutifully went in after it a couple of times and therefore I managed to get him reasonably clean. We were to stay in a B+B tonight as a treat and meet an old friend of mine for a meal in Mawnan Smith.
Getting Midge clean at the Helford river crossing

The ferryman arrived and Midge hopped in. This was his first trip on a small boat and I wondered how he would react. He sat there calmly sniffing the air while I chatted to the ferryman. Then something caught his attention (nose) – playthings!! His keen scent had picked up the plastic bollards/fenders and the sides of the boat. Midge loves finding these on the beach and so these must be playthings – he leaned right out of the boat pawing them and trying to lift them into the boat to play with as I battled to stop him falling overboard.

For £4 we got to the other side before Midge did any damage. He was still nice and clean so I walked up the road to our B+B rather than go on the footpaths. The B+B was in a lovely old country house set in 15 acres of garden and was really reasonably priced. We had a huge room with a lovely big bathroom which I desecrated with my wet tent. After lots of tea and a long walk around the gardens accompanied by the owners two dogs, Midge finding tennis balls as though they were breeding in the undergrowth, we went to meet my friend Louis in the local pub. The Red lion does good food and beer and I spent a lovely convivial evening with Louis and his wife.

Midge in our country house room

Wednesday 18th
It had rained very hard all evening and through the night. We both slept very well in our lovely room. I had to get to Falmouth to get the ferry over to St Mawes and then take another ferry to Place to continue the route. The wind had picked up in the night and was now thrashing the trees. Midge had demanded to go out at 6 and we just got back in before a monsoon struck again.

Breakfast was good although the fry-up was rather modest by usual B+B standards. The lady of the manor regaled me with hard luck stories and tales of difficulties with the National Trust which owned the gardens and were being a difficult landlord. This type of conversation does not fit easily with trying to eat breakfast and get out in a short time and took the enjoyment of the proceedings. However, we were out by 8.40.

I need not have worried, we were in Falmouth in around 40 minutes from Mawnan Smith. I stopped to get some money out of the cash machine and heard “It’s Midge, Hello Midge!” it was the couple whom we had sheltered with the afternoon before in the storm.

I arrived at the ferry terminal way too early and spent the time chatting to people who kept stopping to fuss Midge including one couple who had seen us at Lamorna Cove a couple of days earlier who were impressed with our progress.

Eventually the ticket office opened and we got the 10.15 sailing to St Mawes. It takes about 30minutes to cross and the sea, even in the relative confines of the Fal estuary, was choppy and the boat rolled in the swell. We disembarked in St Mawes into the drizzle and looked for the Ferry to Place just over the estuary. It had been cancelled due to the weather and it would not run at all today. There was our destination just a few hundred yards away and we could not get there.

Fortunately the ferry man told me there was a bus to Porthscatho but not until 11.40 so we had to kick our heels here for an hour. I went to a little bakery on the quay and had a coffee, then to the tourist info place, then walked the streets in the rain until giving up and sheltered under an awning.

The bus arrived and the driver, an Italian, took our fares. At the appointed time for the bus to leave the driver got off and had a cigarette. This was obviously planned so he could set of 5 minutes late and then try and make it up by doing a pretty good impression of training for the circuit at Monza as he sped around the narrow lanes in a bus which had rudimentary suspension to say the least. We actually arrived in Porthscatho early. It was unfortunate that I had missed the section from Place but it could not be helped and I was not about to turn around and do it so I pressed forwards. This was a late start for the main walk; we hit the main path at almost midday.
Finally back on the path at Porthscatho

There was an awful lot of up and down on this section, almost all of it hidden from view and difficult to discern on the map. I just had to get my head down and get it done. I almost stopped at the pub in the pretty village of Porthloe but I decided trail mix and water were good enough.

The wind was dreadful and more than once I feared we might get blown off the cliff-tops, at times it was hard to make progress. Once we reached Dodman Point it was so strong that I wondered about the sense in trying to camp this high up, but there was no alternative nearby that was open. We arrived at Treveague farm campsite to find no one around as usual. I put my tent up in a sheltered corner between a hedge and a caravan. I soon had a neighbour, an old grey bearded and incredibly vague fellow with his jack Russell arrived. Apparently this chap lives in the caravan all summer and winters in Weston-Super-mare. After initial grumblings Midge and the JRT got on really well. Once again, once I found the owners I got the backpacker’s rate of £5. Once again we had piped disco music in the excellent, warm toilet block.

I was going to go into Gorran Haven to look for dinner but my elderly neighbour said in his almost undecipherable Somerset accent that no pub allowed dogs in and I would be better going to Gorran which did not look much on my map and there was no pub marked “Barley Sheath is what youm want, yes it is, Barley Sheath, do you well will they.” so I went looking for it. It turned out to be an excellent pub with great food and a good choice of well kept beers – a real find. The people loved dogs and there was a variety of well behaved dogs in there. It was an excellent evening.

The wind was still as strong when we walked home. Midge found himself an old football so we ran along the lanes playing football on our way to the site.

Thursday 19th
The wind dropped in the night and a mist developed and the tent was wet through with condensation. As soon as I let Midge out the wind got up and the rain started. I looked across the farm to a hill no more than 400m away, it was sunshining! I hoped the clouds would break and we might get some sun to dry the tent but no luck; all around us there was sun but we were in the middle of intermittent heavy showers. I dropped the tent and took it to the toilet block and hung it up in the wind under shelter to try and dry it out. After an hour I decided it was as dry as I would get it and we packed up and headed off about 9.
Goran Haven
My ankle was giving me some gyp today and the tendons at the front had swollen. This did not delay us much and we were in Mevagissey soon where I found a bakery and bought a very good pasty and a large cup of tea and sat by the harbour out of the wind – and now in the sun- to enjoy it.

There seemed to be a lot of up and down before Charlestown where I stopped and bought some orange juice. I had figured that I was not drinking enough so I resolved to try and up my intake. I sat on a seat  with the drink and noticed the plaque dedicated the seat to Fred and Rose West - inviting me to sit and relax - surely not THE Fred and Rose West!!

We went around the edge of a Golf Course and Midge, not to be outdone, found himself a very nice stick with an angle at the end which looked for all the world like a small golf club which he carried all the way along the course.

There is a bit of an unpleasant section around the industrial area by the St Austell docks but we were soon on to Par Sands where I let Midge have a run around and chase his ball for being so good. After Polkeris the route around  Gribbin Head is quite easy until you drop to the beach but the fact that Fowey is just around the corner keeps you motivated.

We arrived in Fowey at 2.30 and I bought food for Midge, We having run out of his dried dog food so I treated him to tuna and bread for tonight and the morning. Fowey is a lovely place and I wish I had more time to look around its narrow streets. We caught the ferry to Polruan, Midge had to pay this time, 40p. The route up to the campsite is steep but it was the final pull of the day. It was windy and dry so I dried off the tent where I pitched it in a sheltered spot. I had a short snooze as I waited for the camp office to open and give me the codes to access the washrooms.

Once scrubbed up Midge and I went for a walk, the cold wind cut it short as I wanted my dinner so we headed back down the hill and chose to eat in the Lugger Inn on the Harbour. The beer was good and I had Crab cakes (OK) and steak pie (pretty good) until I felt I could hardly move. This made the trip up the hill difficult.

Friday 20th
It rained in the night but by morning it had stopped and the day was still and the tent soaked again. Everywhere was wet and there seemed little prospect of drying the tent off even though I draped it over some swings in an effort to do so.  I drank plenty of water but did not feel like eating so skipped the trail mix. Showers were gathering and coming towards us so I decided to head off  and we hit the coast path at 8.45. After less than an hour walking we got into a sheltered cove with a nice breeze which had the sun so I unpacked the tent and dried it off on a bench. Feeling satisfied with this house keeping I thought I should eat something but simply could not. I don’t mean did not, I just could not seem to swallow – my stomach seemed reluctant to accept water and trail mix – strange. 
Morning on the path beyond Polruan

Drying the tent

We saw no one until we reached Polperro where I bought a bottle of drink and tried to get it down me. At 11 the rain and hail started and we were thrashed for most of the rest of the way to Looe. I still had not had anything to eat so in Looe I bought a drink and a pasty which I tried. The pasty tasted awful, I am sure in retrospect it was not, I just could not eat it; I felt sick. I gave it to Midge who accepted it gratefully and wolfed it down. I had a feeling of indigestion and my pace really slowed up.
Midge finds a friend

As we approached Seaton we met an elderly couple on their way to Portwrinkle, they were doing the SWCP in sections and had come from Helford a few days earlier. They would be back later in the year to continue to Plymouth and beyond.

Midge and I played on the beach at Seaton in the rain and wind. The campsite was up the steepest hill so far and I felt dreadful. I had to stop repeatedly due to nausea and fatigue. “I’m not a well lad” I said to Midge, he looked concerned.
We arrived at the campsite of Trerieve farm, its website had looked good when I was researching this trip and it was the only campsite between Polruan and the Rame peninsula. It proved to be very, very basic with one toilet, one shower and one tap. It was hammering down as I approached and the lady of the house invited me in out of the rain. I was thankful to sit down.  The son made me a cup of tea in the kitchen.

The house from the outside looked ordinary enough, an 18th century farmhouse, inside it was a shell. It looked as though the house had been abandoned for 40 years and they had just moved in. A bran new Raeburn contrasted with the bare crumbling plaster walls and ancient decrepit units. The doors were battered and one was no longer on both its hinges. There were no signs of building or restoration going on, I assumed this is how they lived. A huge farmhouse table perhaps 9 feet long dominated the kitchen and was covered with bills, receipts and forms which the farmer and his wife bickered over. It was a scene which would have looked well in a Dickens novel.

I asked to settle up, £8 was the quick reply, no backpacker price here – or perhaps the tea was £3? Not good value compared to the rest. The field was grass about 8inches long which meant we could not keep dry even if it were to stop raining. I pitched my thankfully dry tent in the lea of the hedge to try and get out of the battering winds. I got out of my waterproofs and into the tent and flopped. Within minutes Midge’s ball flew through the tent opening and landed wetly on my sleeping bag. He wanted to play.  It having stopped raining we played for a while but soon the hail and torrential rain started again and even Midge wanted to come in. I let him cower under the flysheet at the tent entrance; he could not come in properly until we went to bed.
Playing will make you feel better Dad!
I lay on the bed shivering, my body wracked with convulsions. I put on layers of clothes and got into my sleeping bag to stop the shivering, it did not work. Around 6 I figured I would have to eat something I had not eaten and had drunk little all day and had covered not much short of 20 miles, I was running on empty. The rain stopped so we headed for the Inn on the Beach and nice modern pub. I still did not feel like eating but I thought I might manage a bowl of soup and a pasta starter to follow.

I am sure both were very good but I simply could not swallow. I managed half of the soup, none of the roll and a few pieces of pasta with a J2O. I sat reading my book hoping Midge might dry off a little. After a couple of hours I thought I had better get to my bed. I was just settling up the bill when I realised I was about to throw up. I hurriedly got my change and ran for the toilet just getting there before I heaved.
The walk back up the hill was purgatory for me. I struggled out of my waterproofs and got into bed in all my clothes and settled Midge down beside me. I sorted out a plastic bag just in case of a repeat performance of the throwing up.
I woke up around 11, it was chucking it down again. I was aware of what had woken me up, a sure feeling that I was about to throw up. I opened the tent to where I had put the plastic bag and had just got my head into it when I chucked up with terrific force. Once it was over I carefully lay back down.

I had a dreadful night, I could not sleep and waves of nausea flooded over me. Around 1 o-clock I was fully awake again listening to the incessant rain hammering down. It was the turn of the nether extremities to empty itself. I had to move carefully, one false move would mean getting my pants full. I struggled over Midge who repeatedly tried to get out of the tent. I did not want to deal with a soaking dog as well so I yelled at him to stay put. This he did, right in the doorway making it even more difficult for me to get out. I tried to move him but he just rolled on his back supplicating “I don’t know what you mean Dad!” and he effectively blocked the doorway.  Carefully but with as much speed as I could muster I got upright trying not to increase my intra-abdominal pressure any more than that necessary. With both legs and buttocks so tightly nipped together I must have looked as though I had inadvertently got both legs down one trouser leg I minced to the toilet in the pitch black. I had no torch, why would I need a torch in April, I won’t be going out in the dark!

I made it across the field and farmyard to the thankfully, new and pleasant toilet. I adjusted my attire and sat. For a moment I thought someone had played a trick on me and flushed the toilet such was the noise, it took a while for me to realise that the noise was me! This was confirmed when it happened a second time. There was nothing solid only all that water and J20 I had drunk. I stumbled back to the campsite and got back into bed. Mercifully I slept for 3 hours until I had to repeat the performance again in the pouring rain.

Saturday 21st
At 5.30 I started to think about my options. I had about 17 miles to go and having had no food or drink for about 20 hours I assessed my chances of completing as slim. I would pack up and try to get on the best I could; start early and go slow. We had packed up by 6.15 and I made an agonised walk down the hill. I drank water regularly to try to rehydrate. As I walked down the hill I could map the journey the water was taking through my intestine. By the time I reached the foot of the hill and the village it was travelling along the ascending colon, as I got into the centre it was in the transverse colon and I rushed to the toilets as it entered the descending colon and sat down just in time for the 500mls of water I had drunk to make a hurried exit.

I walked along the road to the start of the path proper and followed it. At the first hill I struggled, there was no energy in my legs I walked only a few metres before I had to stop. There was no way I was going to make 17miles. I wandered back into the village to assess my options again.
Early morning waiting for the bus which never came

As I came back into the village I noticed a bus stop I had not seen the previous evening. Now in rural areas a bus stop does not always mean a bus so imagine my surprise when I saw there was indeed a bus at 8; it was now 7 so I went to the beach so Midge could be off the lead and have a run. After another visit to the toilets I went to the bus stop. Five minutes after the stated time I was still there. A chap passed me and I asked him if there was a bus, apparently only on a School day the next bus was three hours time.
As I was talking to this chap the post office opened and I went in to see what they might have to help me. Nothing was the real answer but they did have Lucozade. If I could absorb the glucose in this I might get enough energy to get going again. I bought a bottle and took a drink.

I went back to the point I had previously turned around, this time I was determined not to stop. Despite the agony in my legs I passed my previous point and carried on. After about 30 minutes I seemed to hit my stride I just shut my mind and got on with the job. I was in Portwrinkle in not much more than an hour still sipping the Lucozade. The route became much easier from here and I chose to take the route at the side of the road over the military firing ranges. Easy road walking following the route took me to Tregonhawke. I doubted I had the resources to go around the Rame Peninsula. I had planned to do so and spend the evening in Kingsand and explore this area but at the moment all I could think of was getting home to my bed.
I headed inland to Millbrook and bought more Lucozade in the shop near the harbour. I was moving well now and the guts seemed to have calmed down. We left the road at the end of Millbrook Lake and followed the coast to Empacombe and then to the ferry at Cremyll. As soon as we reached the terminal I dived into the toilets and left behind about 700ml of Lucozade. God only knows what I had been running on for the last 12 miles but I certainly had not absorbed any food or water for more than 24 hours.  We actually reached the Ferry by 11.00 only 3hours after setting off from Downderry. Perhaps we could have completed the whole Peninsula? I was just happy to be going home.
Made it! Waiting at Cremyll for the ferry to Plymouth

Midge was filthy so we played in the water until he was clean and then hopped on the ferry to Plymouth. We had to pay the full price train fare home but in the state I was in I thought this was worth it. The Missus met us at the railway station in Melton.  I had not had a pee since Friday morning and did not manage another one until Sunday morning such was my state of dehydration.
This was an excellent route and although I missed off much of the Rame Peninsula I figured we did a pretty fair job considering.