Saturday, 29 August 2009

Only One More Day Left In England

I'm actually quite excited now about the adventure ahead as the time I will be leaving the country is drawing very near. This time tomorrow night I will be readying myself to board the ferry from Dover to Calais and will be out in the wilderness, so to speak! Although I was quite good at French at school I was far from fluent and have no idea how much I have forgotten! I think that the time crossing France and walking through Italy will probably be quite lonely for me as I will not be able to communicate in the same way with people as I can in my own country.

On the positive side, it should provide me with an opportunity to enhance my language skills - both from the point of view of learning French whilst I am speaking with people and also from the angle of Italian - if I cannot have conversations to the same level with people then I think I will spend more time practising my Italian using the lessons I downloaded to my iPod. Hopefully things will go well with this and I will be reasonable at speaking and understanding Italian when I cross into Italy.

On a sad note, Roman is still not able to join me and my ex girlfriend was going to book him into the vets as his paws are still not in a condition for him to be able to take part in this adventure with me. I am really gutted about this and am already missing him loads. I can only imagine how happy I will be when he can finally join up with me. It is looking like he will not join me now until I actually arrive in Rome as the logistics of arranging for him to meet me somewhere along the way now become more difficult.

The last few days have seen me arrive safely in Canterbury although I do have horrendously sore feet again now! The bruising has subsided considerably but, as a result of resting, the blisters have come back with a vengeance! It will be fine in a day or two though - the pain from blisters never really lasts that long. My ankle was seeming to get better but was really painful yesterday. I have resorted to wearing ankle socks and not tying my boots right up to the top so that the contact between my ankle and my boot is kept to a minimum. I tried using some of the bruise relief cream on it last night and some bruising seemed to appear around my ankle last night. It doesn't seem too bad today but I will be using the cream again tonight and again in the morning to see if it helps.

The walk to Dover tomorrow will be around 18 miles, I think. This will probably be the last tough day I have for a while as I am planning to cut down a little once I reach France so that I can recuperate - I think the constant pounding all day long has taken it's toll on my body which has been made worse by having to carry everything - something I never expected to do so had not done any training for. I think this has probably been the most difficult thing for me to come to terms with along the way - the weight has been manageable on my back and shoulders but my feet have taken a real pounding as a result of the extra load.

I have to give a mention to a pub again (sorry to those who think I am an alcoholic living it up on a holiday but they are the best places to socialise in villages!). The Oak in Charing kindly reduced their price considerably for me so that I could take a room for the night rather than stay in the tent - there was nowhere suitable to pitch it closeby with the nearest campsite about 4 miles away and I had already walked about 20 miles that day. I don't think that I could have taken the extra mileage so was very grateful for their kindness. I ate in the pub - fish and chips which was delightful! - and had a couple of drinks before turning in for the night at about 10pm. I must have been really tired though as I slept until about 9am and only just made it in time for the breakfast service - good thing that Canterbury was only about 18 miles down the road!

I have had a really nice time in Canterbury and will be sorry to leave it behind tomorrow - it really is a beautiful place and it is steeped in history. There is so much here to do and to see and I am just sorry that I did not have more money and more time. It is a place that you could really do with having a couple or three days to be able to take your time walking around and looking at everything it has to offer. It seems pretty similar to Chester in many ways - Roman walls, lots of Roman history, Cathedral and great shopping. Maybe that's why I have liked it so much...

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Back To Walking Tomorrow

Just a quick update today as there is not really that much to say other than to provide an update on my health. My feet, although not completely healed, do feel a fair bit better than they did on Monday. I have been using ice packs to help reduce the swelling in my feet and have had a couple of days of total rest to try and help the recovery process. I have got some padding that I will be putting on my feet tomorrow morning before I get back to the road and hopefully this will help to alleviate some of the pressure on my feet. I will also be asking my friend, Nathan, to bring my trainers with him when he comes to meet me in Dover. I think a softer sole might be beneficial where the walking routes are a more stable quality.

I have received a couple of comments on my blog over the past couple of days expressing displeasure at the progress I have made so far. I deleted the first comment and have now put comment moderation on my blog as I did not feel that anything said was particularly constructive. As a result I have decided to try and address some of the things that I have been criticised for.

One of the criticisms is in relation to Roman not being with me. Nobody is more gutted than me that he has not been able to start the walk with me but his paws were simply not in a good enough condition to start the walk with me. As I had committed to a starting date I had to make the decision whether to start without him or whether to delay the starting date. I didn't want to delay the starting date as I had organised a lot of things based around that date and didn't want to mess people around. As it is, I am actually glad that he has not been with me as there have been some very dangerous situations on roads along the way that would surely have seen us both killed if he had been with me.

Another thing that I have been criticised for is accepting a lift when the roads have been dangerous. I would just like to say that the times when this has happened have only been for a few miles and have been at times when I genuinely feared for my safety if I continued to walk in these areas. I know for a fact that my family and friends would not be best pleased if they thought I was putting my life at risk at times and, although I would have preferred to have walked every mile, I am not prepared to put my life at risk either. I understand that there is, of course, the charity aspect to this but what use would me being hit by a truck have?

I have also been accused of basically having a holiday and going on a booze tour of Britain. I assure you that this has not been a holiday and, in fact, has been very difficult so far. I have had so many problems early into the walk and my mental strength has really been tested at times. As for the comment about a booze tour, I can understand the view as I have been to a few pubs in the evenings but it's not like I am on a binge tour at all. I have drunk socially with the locals and have tried to use the angle of having a meal and a few drinks in the pubs I have encountered to help as a bargaining tool to allow me to pitch a tent on their land. There was one night that did end up with quite a lot of alcohol consumed and that wasn't the best choice to have made but just because I am doing this doesn't mean that I should turn into a robot and avoid alcohol completely.

I am sure that when I get into France this type of thing will be less common anyway. As I am not fluent in French it will be much harder to strike up conversations and make social connections with people. As a result I would imagine that I would not be drinking on a social level with people and therefore turn in for bed at the earliest opportunity. Having said that I do wonder what people are expecting me to do between the hours of 5 or 6pm and 10pm. Personally, I like to mingle with people and have a few drinks with them. I don't see anything wrong in that to be honest.

There was also a comment saying that the poster was glad that they hadn't donated and felt sorry for anyone who had. I am sorry that the poster feels this way and hope that people who have donated don't feel that way. If they do then I would appreciate it if they would contact me and let me know. I hope that the majority of people understand the reasons for me having to accept a lift a couple of times - I am sure that anyone with children would want their own children to act exactly as I have done.

Strangely, the same person also left a comment today stating that they wished they could get their money back. I find this quite strange as they had previously stated yesterday that they hadn't donated. The comments have been left anonymously but there is a facility on your blog that can track people and their pageloads so I can see from that report that it is the same person posting the comments. I feel that this person is now trying to discredit me and this is why I have decided to moderate comments. I can accept criticism from people and am quite happy to leave constructive criticism publicly viewable, as I have done in the past, but I felt that the comments that had been left added no value whatsoever and basically amounted to a personal attack.

Please feel free to give your opinions on what I have written today as it would be appreciated and I would be interested to see what the general consensus is amongst my readers. On a finishing note I would like to add that when I originally came up with the idea that I wanted to do this it was a personal thing and I had given no thought to charities whatsoever. I only added the charities later as I thought that at least somebody could benefit from what I am doing. I know I am not going to please everybody all the time and I am sure, as has already been the case, that some people will totally oppose me but I just hope that people can understand the troubles I have had and the reasons for my actions so far.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

My Feet Hurt!!

The last couple of days have been very painful ones and my feet are in really bad shape right now. The blisters are not bothering me in anyway but I have bruising on the sole of my right foot that is really hindering me and I also have a problem with my left ankle. I am not entirely sure what is wrong with my ankle as it is quite strange - when I start walking there is little or no pain but, within a mile, I suddenly start getting sharp pains in it. It feels like something on my boot is rubbing on my ankle and causing the pain but there is no blistering around the area so it's not rubbing that is the direct cause of the problem. It feels as if there is some bruising that is being aggravated by walking but there is no swelling so I can't put my finger on exactly what it is!

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!

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Good Times And Bad Times!

The last few days have been a bit up and down to be honest. I met up with my friend, Brad, and he let me stay at his for a couple of nights. He was a really good host - he cooked both nights and showed me around a few of the local pubs! It was an enjoyable couple of days and it was nice to have a bed again after my night in Telford Town Park. Brad picked me up from Tamworth and we headed back to his and he dropped me off in Tamworth again the following morning so that I could complete the walk to Nuneaton.

I noticed on the way back into Tamworth that the A5 seemed to be missing a lot of footpaths on the way so I popped into the local library to have a look at the Warwickshire street atlas. I noticed that the Coventry Canal ran, in a roundabouts way, from Tamworth to Nuneaton so decided that this would be the safer option. I had left my ruck sack at Brad's house for the day to give my shoulders a day to heal so had hopes of a nice relaxing day, so to speak!

As I got on the canal I got talking to somebody on a barge so that I could make sure that I was going the right way and she informed me that it was only about 11 miles to Nuneaton - brilliant, I thought! She was wrong though - it was actually about 19 miles! I only know as I checked on Google when I got back as it took me four and a half hours and killed my feet. Still, at least I had a day off from the ruck sack and this seemed to do the trick as my shoulders have actually coped much better since then.

That evening I went to watch a football match between Shilton and The Fox (Nuneaton) - this is the team that Brad is managing this season. I was pleasantly surprised to be treated to a really good game of football - very often in the Sunday league circles you find a 'hit and hope' mentality with a lot of long balls. This was totally different as both sides got the ball down and passed it around and there was a lot of nice movement. The game finished 3-2 to Shilton but I think a draw probably would have been a fairer result.

The following morning Brad treated me to a breakfast batch from down the road before I headed off for the day's walking. The plan on this day was to reach a town called Kilsby which I think was about 22 miles away or so. Things went pretty well at first and I was making good time but then I started to get into more rural areas and things became more difficult. First of all the paths disappeared - this wasn't so bad as I could walk on the grass verge for a couple of miles. Then the grass verge disappeared and I was given the choice of either 2 foot nettles, the road (which wasn't very wide and had a lot of HGVs driving along it) or a farmer's field. I chose the farmer's field!

After this I was treated to a section of a few miles of road that had a bike lane up each side so I was able to walk on this and, despite there being some mammoth hills along the way, it was a fairly pleasant hour or so. I found a little roadside cafe about half way up one of these hills so stopped for a tea and a 10 minute break. I had covered a lot of ground and it was not quite lunchtime yet! Then things went wrong again - a couple of miles up the road all of the paths, bike lanes and grass verges disappeared and I was left with very narrow, windy roads with thorny bushes on either side. I decided as soon as I saw this that there was no way I could safely walk this section of road so tried thumbing a lift.

I stood there for about 45 minutes and not one person stopped. I was outside a business farm type building so decided to pop my head in and chance my arm. As it turned out I had been stood only yards from a cafe all along and hadn't realised! In fact, when I first popped my head round I thought it was someone's back garden and they were just eating their lunch outside! Luckily, there was a bloke called Ron who was just finishing up and was on a half day so offered to take me up the road until it got a little safer.

We ended up travelling about 5 miles down the road before the road became safe again and I am very glad that I decided to get a lift as some sections of the road would surely have seen me killed. It is really winding me up how many sections of road don't have any footpath whatsoever - so much so that I am considering writing a letter to Gordon Brown to tell him so (not that it would do any good, of course).

I arrived into Kilsby fairly early that day and immediately found the local pub. The only problem was that it was shut for the afternoon and didn't reopen until 5.30pm. I sat in the beer garden to wait for them to reopen - I asked permission first of course! Once it reopened I was straight in there and was delighted to see that they sold Kopparberg pear cider - I fell in love with the place immediately! The pub was called The George and it is just off the A5 at Kilsby. It really is an excellent place and I would recommend it to anyone in the area.

I had a quiet word with the bar maid there, Victoria, as to whether I would be able to put up a poster about what I am doing and also to see if there would be any way that I could pitch a tent in their beer garden. She fetched the boss, Maggie, and I was delighted to find that she was a very kind lady who agreed immediately. I ate there and contemplated getting a fairly early night but then I realised there was an open mic night - they're normally entertaining so I thought I would have a look.

After about 6 or 7 bottles I was considering turning in for the night - I think it would have been about 11pm by this point. Then I got chatting to a few of the locals and the ciders really started flowing. Before I knew it I was on my way to McDonald's in Rugby with another of the barmaids, Doreena, and a regular in the pub, Pelham! I think I got to sleep at about 5am and knew immediately that it was a bit of a mistake.

I woke up at about 10am and remembered that some more of the locals, Jo and Dave, had offered me a breakfast if I wanted one. I decided to head down there for a fry up and to recount on the night before. We had all had a cracking night and I had managed to make a few friends in Kilsby. I found everyone there to be really genuinely nice people and everybody was really friendly. After we had eaten some breakfast Dave offered me a lift a few miles up the road as he informed me there was another dangerous section of road just outside of Kilsby.

Once we left I saw what he meant and was glad that he had offered and that I had accepted. Once we parted company I set about walking to Stony Stratford. I don't know why but I had visions of Stony Stratford being another sleepy village - I couldn't have been more wrong! It was a fairly decent sized town just outside of Milton Keynes. I couldn't find anywhere to pitch my tent and was becoming a little exasperated due to extremely painful feet - my blisters are alright but I have some fairly bad bruising on the soles of my feet that is really causing problems and my ankle is also extremely sore every time I take a step.

I decided to get a room at one of the pubs in the town and try and barter an evening meal and breakfast into the price. The pub I found at was The Old George in Stony Stratford and the landlord let me have everything for £40. I had to get my parents to phone and book with a debit card as I couldn't afford to pay that much out of what I have left to get out of the country. I have left money at home with them so they can just take the money from there.

I decided not to stay in the bar once I had eaten as I wanted to try and tend to my feet a bit. I had been to Boot's and bought some cream to try and relieve the bruising and also some padding for my feet and the bottom of my back - the steel support in the ruck sack has now started to rub against the base of my spine so this is also quite sore. These things seem to have helped a little but I am still in a lot of pain and finding walking pretty difficult.

I am happy with the weight in the ruck sack and feel physically fine to be doing this but the pain I am in as a result of my feet is really quite bad. I am wincing with every step at the pain in my left ankle and if I step on an uneven piece of ground or a stone with my right foot. I will not be beaten though despite the pain but I am hoping that I might be able to get an old work colleague to put me up for a couple of days in Bromley if I reschedule my rest days slightly. I think that if I carry on for many more days then I am going to be in really bad pain and this will only hinder my progress.

Despite the problems I am having I am still enjoying myself but it is really hard going at times. Today I have been travelling from Stony Stratford to Dunstable - my dad managed to find a camp site just down the road from the main town so I will be trying to get in there tonight. I hope they have space for me as I don't fancy having to walk around looking for places to stay the way my feet are right now! I will update my photos soon, probably when I get to London on Tuesday.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

I Had To Sleep Rough Last Night!

Things have been much better over the last couple of days and I have been making real progress. It has not all been plain sailing though. I left Telford this morning heading up the A5 in an effort to reach a place called Brownhills West by the end of the day. After a couple of miles the paths disappeared completely and another mile in the grass verge turned into nettles! A further mile and it disappeared altogether to be replaces with some very unfriendly thorn bush hedges - this has been the worst section of road I have to deal with so far and it has been extremely dangerous at times.

A couple of miles outside of Telford there are two really big and really steep hills - it was just my luck that there were only thorn bush hedges lining both sides of the road! As a result I had to run up the hills and duck into the hedges every time I saw any traffic coming. It was extremely hard going at times and extremely dangerous but I managed to make it to the brow of the second hill relatively unscathed - if you ignore all the scratches from the hedges that is!

I could see that the next mile was exactly the same in terms of hedge lined roads and spotted a guy parked up in a HGV in a lay by. I asked him for a lift and he took me a few miles up the road - I know I am meant to be walking all the way but I also have to think of my personal safety. We went past Weston Park which is where the V Festival is held - if anyone goes this weekend and is heading from Telford then check out how bad the paths are and you will see what I mean. All through this area it was hedge lined roads and, to make it worse, the road was very windy.

I am glad I asked the guy, Bernard, for a lift as I could have been killed walking up there - a couple of miles down the road we saw a smashed up Mercedes that looked like he had driven into the back of someone - that could have been me! Once Bernard dropped me off I headed down into Brownhills and managed to find a police station so that I could ask for some advice concerning the roads. They kindly told me of an alternative route through Lichfield and Tamworth that would lead to Nuneaton where I need to be by tomorrow evening.

I will spend the rest of today trying to get to Tamworth so that I have a nice short walk tomorrow into Nuneaton. I have just received an email from a friend of mine advising me that I can still stay at his so it will be nice to arrive early so that I have chance to spend a few hours with him and also freshen up somewhat - last night I had to rough it as I couldn't really find anywhere suitable so I ended up in the middle of Telford Town Park hidden in some trees in my sleeping bag. There was nowhere near enough room to pitch my tent so I just had to make do. It wasn't the most comfortable night's sleep I have ever had but I slept nonetheless!

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Nightmare Start!

I am currently sat in a McDonald's using their free wi-fi as I really needed a sugar boost so decided to get a chocolate milkshake!! I only noticed on the way in that they have free wi-fi for all of their customers and decided to make the most of the opportunity and provide a brief update on my (extremely difficult!) progress so far!

My problems yesterday started fairly early as my stroller received it's first puncture about 5 miles outside of Chester. I decided to pump the tyre up and persevere until I could find somewhere suitable to address the situation. I must have got about 2 miles down the road - it was a fairly slow puncture so only needed to be pumped up every twenty minutes or so - when the stroller suddenly got very heavy. The other tyre was also punctured and was now completely flat! I pumped it up but it was flat again within about 10 seconds!

I decided to push on until I reached the next landmark on the road so that I could give my brother, Rich, a ring to help me out. Stupidly, I had not packed a puncture repair kit or spare innertubes so he brought some stuff out for me. I had made it as far as Jackson's Fencing just outside of Tattenhall by this point but the last 2 miles had felt like 10 - they were absolute hell as the stroller felt so heavy as a result of 2 flat tyres! A guy called Chris kindly provided me with some drinking water which I very much appreciated!

I had to wait there for about an hour before Rich arrived and, after about an hour and a half of mucking about I finally got moving again. One of the innertubes had 25 separate punctures whereas the other had two bad ones. Wondering how I know how many there were? Rich bought a bottle of green slime that "allegedly" fills in all punctures and repairs new ones as they happen - sounded good but it didn't work quite like that!

Anyway, I managed to get back on my way and within another 2 miles had more punctures. I decided at this point to ditch the stroller - if the punctures were this frequent this early on then I decided there was no point persevering as it would happen time and time again along the way. This presented a bit of a problem as there was a hell of a lot of weight in the stroller. I had to trim down pretty much every single non-essential item so that I could get everything I needed into the rucksack.

I managed to set off again but I was massively behind schedule. I didn't arrive into Whitchurch until almost 9pm last night and I was totally and utterly exhausted - both physically and mentally. I think I must have been running on adrenaline as I got the shakes and went really cold as soon as I stopped. I think my blood sugar levels must have been really low so I had a couple of glasses of coke and some very sweet coffee with my evening meal in a pub called the Raven Hotel. They kindly agreed to allow me to pitch my tent in their back garden free of charge - I think the guy I spoke to was called Mike (if not then please correct me!!). Anyway, I just wanted to publicly thank them as it was very kind.

I can't find the lead at the moment for my camera so I will have to update with photos at a later date!

Monday, 17 August 2009

One More Sleep!

It's only a quick update tonight as I have been pressed for time all day long. There has been so much to do today to make sure that I am ready for the journey but I have been lucky enough to have my brother, Rich, and my friend, Nathan, around to help me. The stroller is now all packed and ready to go and Roman seems happy enough walking in it's presence. The only thing left for me to do now is get a bath and get to bed - I could really do with a good night's sleep before the journey begins.

I have decided that it will be best for Roman to stay behind for a while until his paws are healed enough for him to join me. Nathan will be bringing him down with him when he drives down to Dover to take us over on the ferry. It's going to be really strange to not have Roman around and I reckon it could be a lonely couple of weeks until I see him again. I'm sure he will miss me too - whenever I had to work away he just used to sit by the back door waiting for me to come back!

Whilst I am on my way to Dover Rich and Nathan have agreed to take Roman out on the fields by my house so that he is exercised but without the risk of further abrasion to his paws. They are getting better and the infected areas seem to be scabbing a little more now where as previously they just looked raw all the time. I still feel cruel putting the lampshade thing over his head but at least I know that it is helping.

I can't believe that it's time to leave already. It seemed like it was ages away when I handed my notice in at work - that was almost three months ago now but the time has gone so quickly. The last three months have really flown by and I have really enjoyed the preparation time. I just hope that I am prepared enough for the walk ahead. I'm sure I will be fine but I can't help but think that I have forgotten something. I'm sure I have forgotten loads but I'm sure that I will find my way.

I will be up nice and early tomorrow morning to get ready to head into Chester for the big send off. I never received a return call from Granada Reports so I am not sure whether or not they are coming out. They seemed to be quite positive about it and they originally covered the story a few weeks back so I am hoping that they will be there. I have received a message from somebody from the Chester Evening Leader to say that he will be out to have a chat and take a few photos.

I really don't know what to expect tomorrow morning and I am not really sure what will happen. I suppose it is a chance for me to get together with a few people and say goodbye to them all properly. I'm not sure how it will go but I am sure we will find our way as the morning unfolds.

Anyway, that's about all for tonight and I think my next update will probably not be for a week or so. Wish me luck, I'm sure I'll need it!

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Only Two More Sleeps!

Last night ended up being a really late night and we all drank far too much! We must have had about eighty shots between about six of us and that was on top of about ten or twelve pints each! I managed to get up before lunchtime and relaxed for a bit before heading over to a friend’s for a barbecue. The weather has been brilliant here today so it has been a good chance to get accustomed to being in the sun all day.

Tonight I am going to be pretty busy again. It was my step mum’s birthday the other day so we are off out for a meal this evening before I head off into town again for drinks with a few of my other friends. It’s quite likely that it will be another late night and I am not looking forward to the potential hangover tomorrow – I have felt alright all day but I am sure it will catch up with me tomorrow!

I am sure tonight will be really good as I am off out with a friend from Cardiff, Sophie, who I don’t get to see very often. She is an absolute scream and we always have a laugh when we get together. It’s nice that she has managed to come up to Chester before I leave as I will not see her now for quite a while! I have told everybody I know that they are more than welcome to visit us when we have settled in Rome.

Roman has had me in hysterics for the past couple of days. The vet gave us a lampshade type thing to put over his head to stop him licking and chewing at his paws when I am not around. When I first put it on he seemed a little freaked out by it and just stood still as if he was frozen. I couldn’t get him to move for ages and I am sure he was wondering where his body had gone!

He seemed a little bewildered for quite a while but, eventually, he seemed to settle. He still doesn’t seem totally happy about it but at least he is not completely freaked out by it now. At first he wouldn’t even sit down let alone lie down and when I went out I could see through the blinds that he was still stood exactly where I had left him! I got my brother, Rich, to pop round a few times during the evening to check on him and let him out to the toilet. Apparently he was still a little unsure of it but it has certainly calmed him down somewhat!

His paws are starting to look a little better but I am pretty sure he will not be able to start the walk with me. Instead I think he will have to join up with me either after a few days or at Dover when Nathan comes down to take us over on the ferry. It’s a big blow for me as he’s like my shadow most of the time. He is with me most of the time so it will be really strange to be without him for a while. Still, I would much rather have his paws completely healed so that this sort of thing won’t happen again on the way to Rome.

Friday, 14 August 2009

What A Horrible Day!

Today has been such a frustrating day for me and I feel like I have managed to achieve absolutely nothing at all. I noticed last night that Roman’s dreaded limp had come back a little so had decided against an early morning walk. When I checked his paw this morning I thought it had got a lot better, only to realise I was looking at the wrong paw! Now both paws seem to be affected! I took him to the vets this morning to get it checked out.

The vet has prescribed some new antibiotics for him and given me a new cream to apply twice a day. He has stressed that I need to make sure Roman is not licking his paw constantly as this can be a way of allowing infections in. As a result, he has given us a lampshade type thing to put on his head – he is going to hate me for putting it on him but he needs to get better. I just hope the new course of medication works better for him than the last lot.

The vet reckons he may need up to a week of rest and this could be a real spanner in the works. We are set to leave on Monday morning, only a couple of days away. I am going to give him total rest for a couple of days and see how his paws are but I have looked into alternative arrangements in case it hasn’t healed sufficiently by Monday. I am hoping that it will be much better but I don’t want to take any chances as it could really hinder us if it is not allowed to heal properly.

I can’t believe the timing of it but I suppose it is best to get it sorted now than for it to happen half way through France without the same support network around us. I have spoken to my ex girlfriend and she has agreed to look after Roman, if need be, for a week or so and he can be driven down to meet me somewhere en route once his paw has healed enough. It could well mean that I have to walk to Dover alone.

I’m really gutted about this prospect and, if it works out this way, I know I will really miss him. I will have to talk to myself for a change rather than to him! I really hope that this new medication works quickly though so, hopefully, it may only mean a day or two delay before he can join me. I’m lucky enough to have really good friends and they have already offered to drive him down to me whenever he is ready to go.

My ex girlfriend brought some papers around yesterday to be signed regarding the house but I was not satisfied that what I was signing actually said what I had agreed to so I asked for it to be amended. Her solicitor is in Manchester so we had to go all the way up there to sort it out. The round trip ended up taking about three hours as she got the wrong postcode so we went to the wrong place originally! To be honest, it is something I could really have done without at this point – I am already so busy I really don’t have much spare time.

I changed £1,000 into Euros today and this was another disappointment. When I first started looking last week I could have got a rate of about 1.165 but I could only get 1.133 today. It’s just typical of the luck I have been having of late but I had to get it changed today while I was there as I am quickly running out of time. I meant to pick up a muzzle from a pet shop in town today also but it totally slipped my mind so I just hope they still have it in the morning.

I am off out tonight with the lads from football for a send off party so I may be a little hungover tomorrow. Still, no rest for the wicked – I have another million and one things to do tomorrow. Hangovers are for weaklings!

So Much To Do, So Little Time!

It’s been another pretty hectic day today really. I managed to get up even earlier this morning and was out of bed by about 7.30am – not quite what I would like it to be but it’s certainly another step in the right direction! Nathan is going to ring me at 5.30am tomorrow to get me up as I have another really busy day planned. I will be taking Roman out early and then have loads of things to do in the morning before getting more walks in followed by a night out with the lads.

Once I was up this morning I took Roman for a five mile walk and we were home just after 10am. My younger brother, Jamie, stayed last night so once I had woken him up and sent him to the shop I sorted us some breakfast before heading off into Chester on a publicity drive. I went armed with a bag full of posters with the sole aim of getting as much publicity as I could.

After being told in the first five or ten establishments that they didn’t put posters up in the window but would put it in the staff room I decided to start targeting the bigger companies. My original aim was to try places like pubs and cafes with the idea that they would be busy places with a wide target audience. Unfortunately, there would only be five or ten staff likely to see the posters in places like this so I changed my tactics.

I must have visited about fifty shops once all this had dawned on with the sole aim of getting them to put the poster up in their staff room. The shops ranged from supermarkets like Tesco and Marks and Spencers to clothes shops like Next, FCUK and Tessuti. My bag was certainly a lot lighter by the end of the afternoon when I headed off home and I calculated that if each shop had, on average, forty employees, then I was potentially hitting up to two thousand different people!

Some of the people I spoke to actually knew about me already. Some had seen me in the papers and some had seen me on Granada Reports. It is nice to be recognised and it’s a real conversation starter with some people. I must say I actually enjoyed doing it and it was nice to speak to so many different people in one day. I’m not normally the type to approach people in shops so it was definitely a change from the norm for me.

The goods arrived from Vango this afternoon too – I got a pop up tent, sleeping bag, self inflating sleeping mat and a top notch ruck sack. I’m really happy with the help that they have provided and the way in which they dealt with me. I really got the feeling that they wanted to help and that I wasn’t just an inconvenience. I will be putting the tent up tomorrow at my brother’s house so that I can get Roman used to going in a tent – it will be the first encounter he has ever had with one but he will have to get used to it quickly!

I really can’t wait to get started now and I am becoming more and more excited about it with every passing day. I’ll admit to feeling a little nervous too but only about the change my life is about to undertake. I am still nervous about exactly what I will do when I get there but am convinced that an intelligent person with ambition, drive and determination will succeed anywhere they go – I certainly hope that this is the case!

Day Fourteen

Our last day on English soil will again be a chance for myself and Roman to recuperate and try and update my blog, as well as doing some laundry if needed. I don’t know whether there is much to do in Dover – I will be checking this out in the coming days – but I am sure I will find a way to while away the time! My friend, Nathan, is going to get us on the ferry as I cannot take Roman on as a foot passenger due to his size so we will just be waiting for him to arrive really.

The ferry ticket is booked for 7pm so we will need to board at around 5.30pm as the check in closes at 6pm if you are carrying pets on board. Hopefully Nathan will arrive into Dover mid afternoon and we will have the chance to get something to eat, if not we will eat on the ferry. I believe the trip will take about an hour and a half but, due to time zones, it will be 9.30pm when we arrive in Calais. As a result we will have to find somewhere pretty sharpish to camp for the night!

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Another Busy Day!

I managed to get up at about 8.30am today which was pretty good as I had a terrible night of sleep. It was one of those nights when, no matter what I tried, I just couldn’t get to sleep. It must have been about 2am by the time I finally dropped off. To make matters worse I kept waking up throughout the night! My mate rang me at 6am to wake me up but I fell back asleep for a couple of hours. I am hoping I will have a lot more success sleeping tonight as it has been a very busy day and I am feeling pretty knackered now!

Once I had got up and replied to a few emails I decided to walk to where my dad works to see if I could sell some DVDs. It’s just over 4 miles away from where I live and we did about 5 miles on the way back. I didn’t put his boots on him for this walk but have been out again tonight with him wearing them. We stopped for a brew with my dad and managed to sell a fair few DVDs. Every little helps, as Tesco say!

I wasn’t in the house for long before I was off out again. I had to get my mum a birthday present so had to go into Chester to do that – for those who don’t know I have 2 mums, a little confusing sometimes when I am trying to explain stuff but that’s just how it is! While I was in town I decided to get some things that I will need when we set off on Monday. Right at the top of the list – and usually right at the bottom from past experiences – was sun cream. I got a selection of factors so that I will be able to adapt depending on the weather. I picked up a few other things too including toiletries and lots of batteries for my camera!

I must have walked about 6 or 7 miles by the time I walked into Chester, around the city and then back home so I was already up to about 15 or 16 miles for the day. When I got in I fed Roman and then, half an hour later, we had to go out again – as it was my mum’s birthday today I had been invited up there to eat. In total I think Roman has done about 11 miles walking today and I have done close to 20 miles.

Tomorrow I am determined to get up early and get a couple of walks done before noon so that the schedule is not quite so intense. I have felt like I have been in a rush all day and I always think that you are less productive at these times. It’s nice to be able to think about things properly and I find I forget less that way. One thing I almost forgot today was to ring DEFRA to see if Roman needed a health check before we boarded the ferry. I rang them at about 5.30pm and they told me that they have no requirements for that; the passport is sufficient.

As I was sure I had read somewhere about a health check I decided to ring P&O Ferries just to make sure that they had no additional requirements for Roman. As it was, the only thing they insist upon is that we board earlier than usual. This is no problem to us and I am now happy that everything is definitely ok on that side. It would be tragic if we had got to Dover and been refused board for whatever reason!

I have also been communicating with Holly from Vango today and she has advised me that my stuff has now been sent out so I should receive all of that either tomorrow or Friday. I can’t wait to put the tent up and introduce Roman to it! I am sure it will be a bit of an alien concept at first but he seems to adapt to most situations pretty quickly so I am hopeful that he will have no issues. I will let you know on that!

I received a message on Twitter last night enquiring about what I will be doing about food on our journey so I promised to divulge in tonight’s post. The plan regarding food is to pretty much pick it up as we go along. I am hoping to find pub type places along the way for evening meals and it would be great If we could stumble upon some supermarkets to pick stuff up for each day. Ideally, I would like to pick up four or five ready made pasta meals to consume during the day – I will need a lot more than normal given the high exercise levels. I will also be taking some whey protein powder with me to be mixed with water as I want to be safe in the knowledge that I am covered for all of my protein needs if I can’t find something substantial in the evening.

Days Twelve and Thirteen

If everything has gone strictly to plan by this point, which I am sure that it will have done, then we will be enjoying a much needed day of rest on our twelfth day. I will use this as an opportunity to do some (probably much needed) washing and also to locate an internet café to be able to update the blog. It will be nice to relax for a day and I am sure that we will feel much better for it!

Our thirteenth day will see us depart Canterbury and head for Dover. The walk is only (I say only but it’s still far!) about 15 miles so we should be able to do this fairly quickly and arrive reasonably early, probably mid to late afternoon. Again, I may use this as an opportunity to update my blog – I am sure there will be a lot of pictures by this stage so it may be easier to spread it over a couple of days.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Busy, Busy, Busy!

Today has been a pretty busy day for Roman and I. The first thing on my list of things to do was to return the tent, sleeping bag and sleeping mat to Great Outdoors. Vango had not been able to get hold of their rep so I asked Holly to give the store a quick ring to explain what had happened. They were fine with it but, rather than get a refund, I decided to get an exchange – they had been good enough to agree to everything so I thought the least I could do was actually put the money back into the store.

I had been thinking for the past few days about walking boots or trainers. I have a cheap pair of walking trainers that would be fine for back up but I felt I needed some good quality ones that provide decent ankle support and are also fully waterproof. Another of the things I had on my shopping list were some decent socks – I have plenty of thin cotton socks I can use as lining socks but didn’t have any decent walking socks (not socks that walk, obviously!)

The lady that Holly had spoken to on the phone, Sandy, was really good and managed to help me out with everything I needed. After trying a few different trainers and boots on I decided to opt for a pair of Merrell boots. The boots in question are Gore-Tex so will not only keep my feet dry but also allow them to breath. They were deceptively comfortable for walking boots and cost just £90 – a small price if they don’t cut my feet to pieces!

I also asked Sandy about socks – I don’t know about you but I know very little about the technical details of such things. She recommended a couple of different types but said the ones that she would go for if she were buying them would be the X Socks. I must say, they are also pretty comfortable – they have padding in all the right places and are also breathable. They were £12.99 a pair so I picked up 4 pairs of them.

Holly also said that Vango would be happy to give me more stuff so recommended that I go on the website and take a look at their range. They said I could pick a different tent if I felt another would be more suitable. I decided to stick with the one I had picked – although it is fairly bulky it also gives the benefit of lots of space for Roman, me and all of our stuff!

I decided to ask for a few more things but didn’t want to be too extravagant. I chose a rucksack that would be able to carry a fair amount of stuff – although all of our stuff will be kept in the stroller it would be good to be able to split clothes and electricals from the rest of the stuff in there. I also chose a chair and a self inflating pillow – I hadn’t even thought about that until I spotted it. Holly said that this would be no problem and should be sending the stuff first thing tomorrow morning. I think I should get it just in the nick of time!

Vango have really been brilliant with me and I am very grateful for all the help they have provided. Most companies have refused to help altogether but Vango have gone out of their way to provide me with as much support as they can. I’d like to take the opportunity to publicly thank them for their support and also to thank Holly who has been excellent throughout.

This afternoon I took Roman to the vets to have a general health check before we leave. Everything, as presumed, is fine with him and we now have the all clear for our trip. It was pretty hot today here so it was a good opportunity to see how he coped with that. He did pretty well really. In total we walked around seven or eight miles by the time we made it to my dad’s afterwards and he was ready to go again within about half an hour!

I had read on the DEFRA site that Roman would need a health check prior to leaving so had booked in at the vets but they think he may need to have one within a certain number of hours of the trip. I will be ringing DEFRA tomorrow to see what their stance is on this. If he does need one just before we board the ferry then I will have to locate a vet in Dover but this will not be a problem as I had already decided to factor in a rest day in Dover – lucky really!

My dad has managed to print a few hundred posters out for me today so tomorrow will also see me going around local businesses in Chester trying to gain support and get our posters put up in as many places as possible. I hope we get well received, I’m sure we will be by local businesses though. I am also going to see about getting some cards printed up, kind of like business cards. I am sure I will be stopped along the way by many people and it would be handy to be able to give them a card with my blog address on.

Roman had his first proper walk in his new boots today and, after the initial bewilderment, it seemed to go pretty well. After about a mile he seemed to be used to them and they didn’t seem to bother him in the slightest. I love that about Roman – he adapts to new situations so well! I am going to try walking him with the stroller tomorrow so that he can get used to its presence.

I managed to speak with my friend from Nuneaton on Facebook last night and it seems that he may be able to put us up for the evening. I am quite excited about seeing him again – we met in Tunisia on a holiday a few years back and always intended to meet up for a drink but it never happened. It will be a good opportunity to have a few beers together and catch up. If you’re reading, thanks Brad!

Day Eleven

Our eleventh consecutive day of walking will take us from Newington to Canterbury. We will be passing through Sittingbourne and Faversham along the way before I journey takes us rural once more. There will probably be about 8 miles of rural walking and this will make a nice change after a couple of days of urban walking.

The trip from Newington to Canterbury is about 21 miles in total and I am hoping to arrive in Canterbury by late afternoon. I have decided to take the first of our rest days here as it is said to be a very interesting place with much to see. Although it is a rest day I am sure we will still do a fair amount of walking!

I was hoping to meet up with a guy I have mentioned before in here called Benedict Protheroe. He walked from Canterbury to Rome last year. I spoke to him earlier on the phone and, unfortunately, he is off to Canada next week for 9 weeks working. Instead, I will look to locate a launderette and an internet café so that I can do some washing and update my blog!

Monday, 10 August 2009

It's Starting To Come Together Now - Good Thing Really!

I have been out walking with Roman today a couple of times without his boots on just to try and take the edge off his enthusiasm a little before I try him with the boots on a proper walk! I will be getting up early tomorrow to take him for a 5 mile walk and, after about an hour’s rest, will be taking him out for another 5 miles but this time with the boots to see how he gets on with them. I don’t want to just put him in them constantly right now but it is important that he gets used to them. I am sure that after a couple of walks he will forget he had never used them before anyway.

I got an email back from Holly at Vango today to say that she had not managed to get hold of the relevant people but had checked in the Vango warehouse stock and they have the items I bought in stock anyway. She has said that if I return the items then she will send replacements as soon as she has confirmation I have been able to return them I will be doing this, hopefully, after Roman’s first walk so it will be done pretty early.

I’m really happy that Vango have decided to help me with this. Obviously, a saving of £141 for me is brilliant as it will mean we have that little bit more money to go with. It’s nice to know, though, that there are companies out there that are happy to help with things like this. All too often I have been met with the “we have already selected our charities for the year in our budget” script that companies put together to be able to fob people off with. It’s frustrating, to say the least, but at least I have managed to find a few companies to help out.

I am currently trying to sell some of my things before I leave to help out with my funds and have today managed to sell one of my televisions. I’m a bit gutted on the one hand as I paid about £400 only six months ago for it but I am also pleased that I have managed to get £270 for the television and a stand as, again, it will help greatly with my funds. I still have a couple of televisions to sell but am pretty hopeful that I should be able to shift them. If anyone is in need of a new television then give me a shout as I don’t have a definite buyer for one of them yet.

I am also trying to sell my DVD collection – again this is a little gutting as I had built a decent collection up and I am only getting £2 or £3 each for the majority of them but if I can sell 100 DVDs then that’s another £200 - £300 towards the kitty. This week is about maximising my opportunities to get myself a decent fund to go with. A few family members have also decided that they want to give me a little something to help me out. I had not asked but it will be very gratefully received and I am sure that it will be very helpful along the way!

I have tried calling Jennie at the Rottweiler Welfare Association again today to see what is happening with Just Giving. It’s really frustrating to not be able to collect for them yet but I will keep on plugging away and hopefully we will get the resolution we want before I depart. If not then I will just have to set it up on the way, the only problem is I don’t think I will be having a rest day until the 28th August. I couldn’t get a reply off Jennie’s number so I will try again tomorrow; I did leave a message but have not had a return call.

I also tried to get in touch with Simon again today – the guy who was trying to get my story into a national newspaper. I have been trying for the last few days as I was expecting some developments in the early part of last week but it keeps diverting to answerphone without even ringing. I will keep trying and hopefully get hold of him some time this week.

I have set up an event on Facebook today to try and get people to attend my big send off from Chester Town Hall. I have been in touch with Granada Reports again today and am hopeful that they will be able to send somebody out to film so it’s important for me to try and get a crowd together and create a bit of atmosphere. It will also be nice to get the opportunity to see my friends and family one last time before I leave.

The bicycle trailer / stroller arrived today and it’s pretty cool. It didn’t take me long to put together – it was quite straightforward. Like a typical bloke, I paid no regard for the instructions (or destructions as I like to call them!) and just ploughed ahead with building it. Predictably, I got a couple of things wrong but it all came together quite nicely within about 20 minutes once I had seen where I had gone wrong. I think I will have to reinforce the bottom a little but, other than that, it looks perfect for the task.

Day Ten

Our tenth day of walking will see us depart Dartford nice and early and start on our trek to a place called Newington. The distance we cover should be around 22 miles in total so it will not be quite intensive as the previous couple of days. The way I have planned this out means that I can have a couple of rest days before getting into France so I am quite happy with that. Also, if we get delayed anywhere for any reason then I know we have plenty of time to play with.

The day’s walking will take us through a few places I have heard of, although I have never been to any. There will be Northfleet and Gravesend – for the football fans you may be familiar with a club that used to be called Gravesend and Northfleet that is now called Ebbsfleet United and was the subject of a takeover recently where members on a website all bought an equal stake in the club. If I get close by then I will get a picture of the stadium!

Other towns along the way will include Rochester, Chatham and Rainham. This will be our second day of walking through mainly built up areas and I am sure that it will be a nice change for a couple of days after so many days of isolated walking with little human contact other than people driving by!

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Roman And His Boots!

I tried Roman’s boots on him properly today and took him out for a walk in them. He was absolutely hilarious when I put them on him for the first time – he didn’t quite know what to make of it and had a look of bewilderment about him! He walked really funny and was almost bounding around at first – I think that he thought maybe they would come off if he was enthusiastic enough.

I took him for a short walk in them just to see how he got on so we went over to the field for a bit. It took him a little while to get used to them and I don’t think I’ll be letting him run around the field in them – he slipped a couple of times but I am sure that this is natural for a dog that runs around like a nutter. He must be so used to being able to use his claws to grip that it must be strange for him to try and stop.

Once we were back on the path he seemed to be a little bit better. The apprehension he had showed at first didn’t seem to be so obvious and he seemed a little more relaxed in them. I don’t think it helped that I didn’t take him out yesterday and his general exercise levels have been low recently due to his recent paw problems. I will be trying him again tomorrow on a road walk and will see how he does walking five miles in them. I think once he gets used to the feel of them he will go back to normal.

I’m looking forward to getting back into the routine of lots of decent walks with Roman. It’s nice to be able to laze around, so to speak, but it’s of no real benefit to either of us. The week ahead is going to be a busy one but I need to make sure that we are walking twenty miles a day by next weekend ready for the start of our journey. I am 99% certain that he will not struggle with the physical side of it as he has managed so many long walks before but I definitely wanted to make sure I had some form of protection for his paws if the need arose.

I am playing football tonight for the six a side team I play for in our penultimate game of the season. Our last game will be next Sunday evening, the day before we leave, so I will have to be careful not to pick up an injury. I hope I don’t jinx myself by saying this but an injury at this point for me would be disastrous! I would still go ahead but it would certainly throw a spanner in the works.

A few people have asked why I simply didn’t finish playing last week but that’s not me. I really enjoy football and I think the physical exertion really helps me to take away any stresses that have built up in the week. Also, as the season finishes next Sunday and we are in the middle of a relegation dogfight, I don’t want to let the lads down. If there is a chance we can stay up then I will do all I can to help even if I am not going to be there next season.

The lads from football have decided to take me out tonight for a bit of a send off – I just hope it’s not too messy! No matter what happens, I will definitely be getting back into the intensive walks tomorrow – after all, if I get drunk one night when I have set off then I will still have to walk the following day so I need to make sure that I am in the right frame of mind to not let something like that get in the way.

Day Nine

Our ninth day of walking will be another long slog and we will be walking about 26 miles in total throughout the day. I am keen to try and make a little bit of time up so that if we run into any problems nearer to Dover then we have a cushion to ensure that we still arrive in plenty of time. Ideally, it would be good to arrive in Dover on the evening of the 29th and this would mean that we would have the following day to relax before checking in for the ferry at 6pm.

The walk to Dartford will see us pass briefly through London and we will be going pretty close to the Tower Of London. It will be our first day of walking that will be pretty much all in built up areas with people about. I am thinking of getting some sort of board attached to the stroller with some advertising for what I am doing – I will be seeing a lot of people on this day so it would be good if I could raise the profile of our walk.

A Heavy Night And A Lazy Day!

Today has been a really lazy day for me – after the meal last night I invited a couple of my brothers and a few of my friends around to have a few drinks so we popped to Asda on the way home and picked up some booze. We got a bottle of black Sambuca, a bottle of Southern Comfort, some lager and some cider. All of the alcohol has now gone and it was quite a night!

We ended up having an all nighter and I didn’t go to bed until about 9.30am! I got out of bed just after 2pm as I didn’t want to sleep all day and not be able to sleep tonight. I will be starting the walks with Roman from tomorrow now I have his boots and I can’t wait to get them on him and get out. We haven’t been out at all today – I have not been ill but I have certainly not had the same energy levels that I usually do!

Once we all woke up this afternoon we just sat around watching films and looking at videos on YouTube. I have not had a day like this for ages, I seem to be busy most of the time but it was really nice to just take a complete break from everything for the day and just relax. It will be my last chance to do this before I go as I will need to make sure that everything is sorted before I leave.

I don’t have to go to the dog training class tomorrow as last week was the last session before the summer break. I think I will miss going there – even if I did have a bad track record of actually making it regularly! It was really good for Roman to get interaction with other dogs in a controlled environment and I feel it has helped both him and me.

As today has been such a lazy day there really isn’t much else for me to write about today. Apologies for not having much to say but we all have to have a lazy day from time to time! Weekends tend to have less to write about anyway at the moment as the majority of things are happening during the week when I am able to contact people.

Day Eight

Our eighth day of walking will take us from Dunstable to a place called Cockfosters, just outside of Barnet. The day’s walking will be around 25 miles in total and I think we should be arriving some time around 5pm. The first half of the walk will not really see us go through any decent sized towns but we will be passing through St Albans, London Colney and Potter’s Bar during the afternoon.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Surprise Family Meal!!

My family and friends surprised me tonight – I was meant to be going out for a meal with my mum, two of my brothers and one of my brother’s girlfriend but it ended up being a surprise bash with about twenty people there in total! I was pretty surprised as I was just expecting a nice quiet meal! It was really good and I had a really nice time – it was nice to see so many of my friends and family all together at the same time.

I managed to get hold of Roman’s dog boots today – a friend of mine, Lou, had ordered them off the internet and they arrived on Wednesday but she lives next door to my mum about 12 miles away so I couldn’t get them until today. I can’t wait to put them on Roman and take him out in them – I’m sure he will find them a bit strange at first but, once he is used to them, they will be invaluable.

The boots look really cool and everybody is really impressed with them. They may have been quite expensive at about £50 but I am sure they will be worth every single penny. If they protect Roman’s paws then they will have done their job. I will only put them on him when I am walking along the path – if we are on grass then I won’t put them on him so that I can make sure that the grip on the bottom lasts as long as possible.

My nan has been in hospital for a few weeks now so me and my mum popped to see her for a bit before we popped up to her house for a bit. I went to see my granddad who lives just down the road for a bit afterwards as he wanted to give me some money to help me out with my expenses along the way. He gave me £50 and I am really grateful for that. Any money that my family give me to help me along the way will be very helpful.

Other than that there hasn’t really been a lot going on today. My laptop arrived earlier today and I am really happy with it. Again, the laptop will really help me along the way and I can’t wait to get started and using it to update my blog each day!

Day Seven

After a couple of days of longer walks we will only be walking about 21 miles on our seventh day of walking. We will set off nice and early from Stony Stratford and will be aiming to get to a town called Dunstable by the end of the day. We will be passing by Milton Keynes and Bletchley along the way but will not be passing through any sizeable towns along the way.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Euro Rates

I decided to check out what kinds of rates I can get when I change my money into Euros today. As I will be changing quite a lot I was hoping that I may be able to get a better rate as a result – I wasn’t wrong! It wasn’t a massive increase but it will certainly make a difference. I was actually surprised at just how different the rates are depending on when you go. I was quoted as high as 1.151 Euros per £ but also as low as 1.125 Euros per £. I’m glad I decided to take a walk around as I now know which places are the most flexible and will be trying to get them into a war with each other for my business when I do change it!

I am trying to sell some of my things at the moment to boost my funds such as my televisions, DVDs, books, etc. I am hoping I can raise up to £750 extra by doing this and this would certainly help a fair bit. Using the conversion rate of 1.151 I was offered today this would equal about 860 Euros which would easily cover a month’s rent when I get to Rome. I have been looking at some estate agents in Rome to see what sort of stuff is available for when I get there and it looks like I will be paying around 800 Euros per month. This is pretty expensive compared to what I am used to so I will have to be quick finding a job!

I am hopeful that, by the time I reach Rome, I will have just over 4000 Euros left so I will have a little breathing space but it certainly won’t last a long time and I will have to be very careful with my money! I’m no stranger to living on a budget though, I have had to do it many times in my life due to certain circumstances so I guess I will just have to be disciplined again for a while until I can get myself a decent job.

I am resigned to the fact that whatever jobs I do find I am suitable for are not going to be great in terms of pay but as long as they enable me to get a foothold in the country I will be happy enough. I am sure that the first six months to a year will be pretty difficult and will certainly not be the free living I will become accustomed to on our journey but I am sure it will all be worth it once I have established myself there properly. Nothing worthwhile in life is ever easy!

I bought a couple of phrasebooks today whilst I was in town comparing Euro rates. I got one French phrasebook and one Italian phrasebook. I can remember bits of French from when I was at school but I am sure that a phrasebook will come in very handy. As for the Italian, I am improving each day but a phrasebook is a must for me for when we arrive. I downloaded a couple of teach yourself Italian things last night and have now organised them in my iTunes library so I will be able to put those on my iPod.

The solar charger I ordered arrived today and I must say I am surprised at the size of it. I thought it would be much bigger than it is but it’s quite compact really. It’s roughly the same size as a hip flask, maybe a little bigger. It will be invaluable to me on our journey and will enable me to be able to carry on learning Italian whilst we are travelling. It is imperative that I am as good at Italian as possible on the day we arrive.

I ordered myself a new laptop too last night and that should arrive either tomorrow or the day after. I was considering the practicalities of updating my blog weekly from an internet café and, normally, this would be pretty straightforward. Once you throw a 55kg Rottweiler into the mix it becomes a little more complicated! Not all establishments, if many at all, will be happy for him to be with me so I had to consider this possibility. I decided that if I organised my photos and wrote a piece for my blog each night on my laptop then I would be able to sit outside the café using their internet access solving that problem altogether. Another benefit is that I may not have to stop in one place for quite so long – if it is all organised on my laptop then it may just be a 30 minute job to update my blog.

I played in a football match tonight for the team I played Sunday league football for last season. It was our second preseason friendly. Although I will not be there for next season it’s a good way for me to keep in shape whilst Roman cannot be walked so much. I should get the boots for him tomorrow evening so we can start walking properly again on Saturday. I can’t wait, it’s been far too long already!

Day Six

Our sixth day of walking will be a slightly more intensive day than the last. As P&O Ferries are only able to supply us a ticket for the evening of the 30th August I need to make sure that we allow ample time to reach Dover in time so I decided to add a few miles onto a few of the days’ walking. Our sixth day will see us walk about 24 and a half miles from Kilsby to a place called Stony Stratford, just outside of Milton Keynes.

It will be another pretty much unremarkable day of walking and I don’t expect to see much of interest along the way. I think the largest place we will walk through will be a place called Towcester but there will be a rather humorously named town that we pass through – Weedon. I will be sure to get a photo of Roman and I by the sign welcoming us to the village!

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Vango And Roman's Boots

It’s just my luck that as soon as I give up on a cause it comes through. That’s exactly what happened today – I got an email this morning from Vango apologising for the delay in responding to my request but advising that they would like to try and help providing, of course, there would be a commercial benefit to them. After a couple of emails back and forth it seems that they may be able to strike up an agreement with the store I bought their products from for me to take it back and have it replaced by Vango themselves as the store are a major stockist of their goods.

Holly, the lady that emailed me, seems to be really good. She advised me that she would be off on holiday for a couple of days but should be able to give me a definitive answer by Monday afternoon. I will be delighted if this comes through as it will mean that I get £141 back towards my funds! This will be a great help to me as, I’m sure you can understand, every penny really counts for me. I only have a limited budget to work with and I have to think about being able to pay to rent somewhere and to be able to live once I get there if I don’t manage to get a job immediately.

The weather here has been superb today for a change and it has given me a rare (of late anyway) opportunity to get my shorts on and catch some rays. I am sure I will have plenty of time for that on my travels but it can’t harm for my skin to get used to the sun again! I will have to make sure that I get plenty of suncream for the journey though as it would be really bad if I burnt early into my adventure. I have a history of being careless with this kind of stuff so I will be making a conscious effort to change this!

I have had Roman out a couple of times today; I am still only taking him running on the field by our house but it’s something at least. My friend rang me a little earlier to inform me that Roman’s dog boots have arrived so I should get my hands on them pretty soon so our proper walks can start again as soon as I have them. I have really missed our walks together and can’t wait to get started again but am glad that I have been extra cautious with Roman whilst his paw has healed.

His paw does seem to be much, much better now so I think I have done the right thing by him, even if I have felt really cruel at times! I think we take our feet for granted but it has really made me think about how I would cope if I didn’t wear shoes and injured my foot. Also, can you imagine walking around barefoot on tarmac roads when it is 25 degrees with the sun beating down? It would be horrific!

I am hoping to get the bicycle trailer / stroller some time this week but it could take until early next week to arrive. As soon as it arrives I will be practising walking with Roman with it so that he is used to it before we set off. I am sure he will have no problem as he doesn’t seem to be fazed by anything really. I’m pretty sure that he will happily walk at my side behind it but it’s always best to allow a little time beforehand for him to get used to it.

Day Five

Our fifth day of walking is all set to be a rather unremarkable affair. We will be walking about 21 miles from Nuneaton to a place called Kilsby. There are no big towns along the way and there seems to be very little of interest along the whole of the journey. As a result, it will probably be a rather boring day for us but I’m sure there will be a few more days like that along the way, I just hope the sun is out so that it doesn’t make it a miserable day too!

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Today Has Been Productive..... But Expensive!!

Today has been a rather productive day for me and I have managed to acquire some much needed equipment for our journey. I have been looking at tents and the like for a while now and considering what would suit our needs best. Whilst I obviously have to be mindful of weight and packed size I also need to make sure that there will be more than enough room for myself, Roman and anything that I decide to take with us.

I decided to go for a Vango Swift 300 pop up tent. It is a three man tent so there is a substantial amount of room inside for us but it also means that I will not have to worry about where we are going to keep all of our stuff. A two man tent would barely have been big enough for Roman and I so I decided, now that I know I won’t have to carry everything, to go for the larger model.

I bought the tent from the Great Outdoors shop on Sealand Road just outside of Chester and it cost £99 – quite a bit more than I was hoping to spend if I am honest but I felt it was worth it to know that we were getting a quality brand tent with more than enough room for us. Whilst I was there I decided to pick up a sleeping bag, sleeping mat and some waterproofs.

The sleeping bag cost £19 and, again, that is a Vango. It advertises itself as being a pretty good sleeping bag and would be suitable for temperatures as low as -8 degrees but is recommended to be used in temperatures between 7 degrees and 20 degrees. This should perfectly cater for what I need it for. I decided to pick a Vango sleeping mat also and opted for the self inflating one – I can’t be bothered with blowing things up! The mat cost £22 but I am sure it will be worth every penny if it ensures my comfort at night.

The waterproofs were perhaps the most difficult thing to choose. I wanted something that was reasonably lightweight but also capable of providing warmth just in case I needed it. After much perusal I opted for an Adidas Gore-Tex jacket that also has the Clima Cool feature, much like modern football shirts. I think this will provide warmth when I need it but also ventilation in the important areas. The jacket cost £69 but I feel this will be money well spent. Another added bonus of this jacket is that it is a very bright orange so will ensure that I am seen when walking in it!

As for the waterproof pants, I eventually decided to purchase a pair of Berghaus. They’re not particularly fancy but they have both zips and poppers up each leg – this means that if the rain subsides I can undo the zips to provide ventilation if I feel that the rain will be returning pretty soon. The trousers cost me £40 which, again, was probably more than I originally wanted to spend but I am happy with my purchase. Well, Great Outdoors must like me – I spent £249 in total!

I also decided to order the bicycle trailer / stroller today. I had not received a response to my email but managed to find the same model on another site that confirmed the answers I was looking for. Including postage it is costing me about £70 so it’s a pretty reasonable price all things considered. For a similar model from a bike shop or Halfords I would probably pay between £100 and £150 so it’s a bargain when you look at it like that. When you consider how much easier it will make things for me it’s definitely money well worth spending!

I had also been mulling over for quite some time whether or not to buy a solar powered charger so that I would be able to take my iPod with me. The more I considered it the more it made sense. Although I have been making progress with Italian I am definitely not near the standard I will need to be when I arrive. I decided to download some Italian discs so that I could upload them to my iPod and then I will be able to use these on our walk to help me learn as much as possible for when I arrive.

After having a good look around for a few hours on the internet I finally decided to purchase a model called the Freeloader Solar Charger. It comes with a whole host of adaptors to enable you to be able to charge all sorts of different devices and, most importantly, includes the adaptor for my iPod. It charges fully within as little as 8 hours and can power an iPod for up to 18 hours on this charge. I think I will charge it each day and then use the iPod each evening to brush up on my Italian. In total this cost me £35.

So, in total, I have spent £354 today – that’s quite a commitment really! There’s still quite a lot I need to make sure I have before we leave and I will be focusing on ensuring we have everything we need before we leave. I will be (attempting) to draw up a kit list in the next day or two so that I can tick everything off as I go along. I am hoping to get some help of a guy I have mentioned here before, Benedict Protheroe, on that one. He walked from Canterbury to Rome last year so has first hand experience that will help me no end.

Day Four

Our fourth day of walking will be slightly more intensive than the previous three days as I hope for us to cover about 25 miles. The day’s walking will take us from our starting point of Brownhills West right through to Nuneaton, passing through Tamworth on the way. I have a friend who lives in Nuneaton so I will be trying to get hold of him to see if he fancies putting us up for the night – fingers crossed!

Dog Food, Dog Boots, Ferry Tickets And The Stroller

Roman’s dog food arrived at the vets this morning so I got my brother, Rich, to give me a lift there to pick it up. The vets have also kindly donated a couple of things for us. They have given us a flea treatment called Advocate that will last Roman for about 3 months – hopefully the duration of our journey. They have also given us a Scalibor collar. These are to keep sand flies away as they can be pretty dangerous to dogs. We don’t get sand flies in this country but they are quite common on the continent.

The vets have been really good in supporting us through the whole of our preparations for this walk. They have been happy to help whenever I have needed advice and have really gone out of their way to help us. If you are ever in need of a good vets near Chester then don’t hesitate to give them a go – the vets I use are Storrar vets and they are right next door to Bill Smith’s Motors in Boughton. The whole establishment is a credit to the vet profession – the reception staff are really polite and really helpful and they all love animals completely, whether it be a cat, a Yorkshire terrier or a Rottweiler! I have always been made to feel very welcome there and I think the family run heritage is probably a big reason behind that.

I have given up in my quest to get a company to provide Roman’s dog boots for free – either I manage to speak to someone and I get the good old “We’ve already picked our charities for this year” script or I email and get completely ignored! It’s really very frustrating at times! I have taken up my friend on their offer and they have ordered the boots for Roman today so they should be with us pretty soon. I’m quite excited about them to be honest (sad, I know!) and I reckon Roman will look quite dapper in them!

The search for a bicycle trailer / stroller continued today too. I have managed to spot a few knocking about and they range from quite expensive models in online stores to much cheaper versions of pretty much exactly the same things on ebay! I have spotted one for £72 on ebay and will be ordering it as soon as I have had a couple of questions answered by the company. I just wanted to be sure about the weight limit on the stroller and also wanted to confirm that the attachments needed to convert it to a stroller are included.

Roman’s paw has not given him any trouble today – in the past he was suffering the day after exercise but he has had no problems at all. I took him out on the field earlier so that he could run around for a bit and get rid of some of his excess energy before going to see my parents. It’s been a while since I have been up to see them and there aren’t too many days to go until I go now so I will have to make the most of the time I have here.

I have been practising a new way of walking Roman over the past couple of days as suggested by Gemma at the vets and Angela at FIDO (the dog training place). I have a double ended lead for Roman and I have been attaching one end to a link about two thirds of the way around the lead and the other end to Roman’s harness. I then place the lead over my shoulder, much like you would with a record bag. Doing it this way means that I can walk him without actually holding the lead – I will need both hands for pushing the stroller!

As soon as I have the stroller I will be practising walking Roman with that, firstly so that Roman can get used to having something in front of him but also so that I can get used to how he behaves with it. Angela got me to try pushing a buggy around in a training class once but it’s hard to judge how Roman took to it as there were so many other dogs about to distract him! I don’t think he will have any problem with it though.

I got a reply from Natalie at P&O Ferries this morning to advise that they would not be able to provide a ticket on the morning of 31st August due to heavy bookings as a result of the bank holiday weekend. Instead she suggested that we could travel over on the evening of the 30th August and my friend could then return the following morning. I have decided to get the 7pm ferry over and then my friend will return on the 10.55am ferry the following morning. I am sure it will be a pleasant change to have some company for an evening!

Day Three

Our third day of walking will see us depart Newport and head for a place called Brownhills West. The total distance covered will be approximately 22 miles on the third day. I have been thinking about our rest points along the way and have decided that I will walk for an hour and then rest for half an hour. I think by doing it this way we should reach our final destination each day by about 4pm or 5pm so we will be able to work out where we will be staying and where I can eat!

I think this will be a nice way of doing things as it will mean that we can just relax once we have stopped safe in the knowledge that we are done for the day. I have decided that I will take a few books with me so that I don’t get bored in the evenings. One of these books will definitely be an Italian book so that I can continue learning whilst we are travelling!