I managed to reach Totternhoe near Dunstable on Sunday evening after a very difficult and painful day of walking and there were times when I had to stop as the pain was so bad. Once I arrived in the village I found that the campsite my dad had managed to find was not actually a campsite but more a chalet / static caravan site. There was literally nowhere on the camp for me to pitch a tent and I got no joy when I asked. Luckily there was a pub just next door, called The Cross Keys. I popped in to see whether they would be willing to let me pitch my tent in their garden which, by the way, was pretty damn big!
The landlord there, John, agreed fairly quickly once I told him what I was doing so I got myself a pear cider and took my boots off to relax for a little while. The relief when I can take my boots off is massive and it's a part of the day I really look forward to - I obviously look forward to the pear cider too. In case you haven't noticed it's my favourite drink! I sat out in the garden for a couple of hours until the sun had pretty much gone down before pitching my tent by some bushes.
I decided to join the locals in the pub then - it had been pretty lively in there up until that point with lots of loud music, singing and dancing but a few of the regulars had left just before so it had quitened down a lot by the time I went back in. I got chatting with a few of the regulars and a few people bought me a drink - I had intended on a really early night but it's rude to turn down a drink so I didn't end up getting to bed until a short while after midnight.
It was another enjoyable night in the company of some really nice people - I have found that the stays in villages have been much more accommodating and enjoyable than the larger towns as there is more of a community feel and it's much easier to strike up conversations with people. In a larger town people seem to have their own little groups and it often seems rude to gatecrash their conversations. I have noticed that the staff are more approachable in the village pubs too and I chatted with John, the landlord, and Charlie, the barmaid, for quite some time with a few of the locals.
One of the locals has offered to get some cotton t shirts printed up for me and I need to give him a call today - I am not sure where I put his phone number (I know it's in my bag somewhere but it can be a bit of a mission trying to find things with so much stuff in there!). I will dig out his number when I have finished typing this up and try and arrange something. It was really nice of him to offer but he said I had captured his heart with two of my charities - he was an ex soldier and also knows a Rottweiler very well and supports both causes.
I have also been meaning to speak with the guy I met outside the George in Kilsby the other night who was an area manager for a mobile phone company. He said he would enquire about the possibility of getting me a phone with a couple of hundred pounds worth of credit on so that I could use it to update my blog on the move a little more easily. I have not had any battery in my phone since yesterday morning but have managed to get it fully charged now so will make sure that I make those calls. If either or both can help me then I will get them to deliver the stuff to my parents' house so that Nathan can bring it all down to me when he comes to meet me at Dover.
Yesterday was a really difficult day for me. The plan was to walk from Totternhoe to somewhere near Barnet and this would have represented the longest day of walking in the whole adventure at about 28 miles. The day started alright but, within a couple of miles, I was in excruciating pain with my feet and ankle again. I managed to walk about 10 miles in total and made it to Luton just after lunch time. The last mile must have taken me about an hour though and I was really struggling to walk.
I have a friend in Bromley from when I had to work there in my previous job and I had asked him if he could put me up whilst I was around London. Dave had kindly agreed and I am very grateful for that. Once I reached Luton I got back in touch to see if he would be prepared to put me up for a few days so that I could get some much needed rest and give my feet some time to recover. He agreed again so thanks to both Dave and Anna, his girlfriend. It really means a lot that people are prepared to help me in this way and I have been delighted with how welcome people have made me feel throughout the journey so far.
I jumped on a train from Luton into London and then got another one from London to Bromley so that I could wait for Dave to finish work. I sat on a bench in Bromley in the sun and waited for a couple of hours and, despite the funny looks I got off a few people, I really enjoyed the relief of just sitting down with my boots off! Once Dave finished at 4.30pm we went to The Tomfoolery pub to have a pint or two and managed to catch the first half of the Liverpool vs Villa match - I wish we hadn't bothered given the performance and result!
We then went back to Dave and Anna's flat and he cooked up a terrific piri piri chicken dish that really hit the spot. You don't realise how much you take good food for granted until you have to actually try and find it every night for a reasonable price! Another thing that you take for granted is a shower - the relief I feel every time I manage to get a shower is immense and it seems to help with any aches and pains I may have.
I have had a day of total rest today whilst Dave and Anna have gone to work and have not really done much at all. I am planning another day of rest tomorrow as I really need my feet to recover before starting off again. I only have another couple of days of walking to get to Dover - first stop Canterbury - and the length of the walks is nowhere near the level I have been putting myself through until now. I had never anticipated carrying such a heavy bag as I had the stroller but I think that this has really added massively to the problems I have with my feet. I think I would not really have the problems I have now if I had not been carrying the bag - I am not used to the pounding that your feet have to do when you are carrying a lot of weight and I think the distances I have been covering have been so much harder as a result.
I'm really proud of the number of miles I have managed to walk up until this point but am also gutted that I am being made to stop for a couple of days because of the pain. It might have been an idea to factor some rest days in earlier given the extra load I have to carry but hindsight is a wonderful thing. I think the big problem for me has been knowing that I have to be in Dover for the ferry on the 30th and I knew I had to get a lot of walking done each day to keep to the schedule. At least once I am in France I do not have to do that level of walking - if I need a rest I can just take one, the only thing that this will really impact is the amount of money I have left when I arrive in Rome!