Mar 10 2012

Walk 44: Tow The Line

A bridge over the Leeds/Liverpool Canal near Alder Carr Wood

route: Leeds to Skipton along the Leeds / Liverpool Canal
10th march 2012
distance: 29.4 miles (Dave, Graham, Roger & Simon), 23.2 miles (Leanne & Sandra)
ascent: 55 feet
time: 12 hrs (Dave, Graham, Roger & Simon) – 9 hrs 55 mins (Leanne & Sandra)
walkers: Dave, Graham, Leanne, Roger, Sandra & Simon

I had been looking forward to this day for ages and as my alarm went off at 5am I was surprisingly chirpy and soon jumped out of bed in anticipation of what was ahead of us. There was quite a long day ahead of us and that started with a 5.45am taxi to Leeds City Station where we found Beaky and Ramblo already waiting for us near Wetherspoons, but there were no drinks to be found! I paid the driver and climbed out with my rucksack and porridge pot as we had opted for the simple, “pour water into container” breakfast, but unfortunately there are no bins in stations so we were thankful that even that early in a morning there was a guy walking round collecting rubbish with his little pincers on a long stick. A few minutes later G and Roger arrived and claimed they had been waiting at another entrance and I jokingly chose not to believe them, even though my phone had some missed calls from them and a message asking where we were. It’s always better to start a long day with a little leg pulling as it helps to get the smiles on faces early rather than spending the first two hours complaining how early it is. It was early though! Fortunately our platform was one of the closer ones, as I got the impression that today’s 30 mile route would be enough walking for one day, and we boarded the train for the 40 minute ride to Skipton, calling at Shipley, Bingley and Keighley.

There was no doubting that I was excited by the change of routine and I got the impression that everyone was enjoying the fact that we were doing something totally new, not that we were bored with the old. As we pulled away from Keighley station we spotted a big Trailtrekker poster on the platform which was a reminder, if we needed one, of why we were on the train in the first place. The plan for today was to walk back to Leeds along the tow path of the Leeds/Liverpool Canal which would help us cover a longer distance than we have previously done without all the hills to slow us down. Ultimate it was a small step en route to the 63 mile Trailtrekker but it didn’t seem like such a small step ahead of us when we jumped off the train at Skipton and posed for the usual team shot.

Wu Tang had expressed her apprehension at the distance involved today when we were on the platform and I encouraged her by saying all we needed to do was walk and bit by bit we would cover the distance. I think seeing it as one big walk can work against you and I just wanted us to get going and see how we were doing after 4 or 5 hours before we made our minds up as to how hard or easy this was going to be. As always her words weren’t that of pessimism but merely her way of voicing her opinion as to what she was expecting and after a few hundred yards through the streets of Skipton we reached the canal, turned right, and began our walk.

The first twenty minutes or so were just wonderful. Clear overhead conditions, nice flat terrain and interesting chit chat, but things soon started to turn against us. Firstly the 0% chance of rain that the Met Office forecast for our stretch of the canal, turned into 100% chance of rain and on went the water proofs. It wasn’t heavy and normally I would have not bothered putting a water proof on but we still had 28 miles or more to do and I didn’t know how long it would rain for and I didn’t want to be soaked all day. It turned out that less than twenty minutes later the fine drizzle would have stopped and we would remain dry for the rest of the day, but we now had bigger things to worry about.

Beaky, Ramblo and Sherpa G-String were walking twenty yards ahead of the rest of us and they passed a swan asleep on the tow path. I am thinking they must have startled it somehow as it stood up and moved to the middle of the path, puffing its wings out and making it look as big as possible whilst at the same time walking towards us in a menacing fashion.

We stopped and began to walk backwards away from the swan that suddenly stopped knowing it had moved us back far enough for its liking. We stood still wondering what was coming next, then it calmly turned around and walked back to the spot it started from as we tip toed behind trying to be quiet.

We kind of knew it was never going to work and sure enough the whole process was repeated again and a third time as we sought a way past to no avail. Roger tried jumping over the wall to our right as the swan went for him snapping with its beak. Unfortunately for Roger he jumped into a dead end and had to come back and re-join Wu Tang and myself. Eventually we gave up and had to walk a few yards back along the tow path then found a way out onto the road and bypassed the “killer” swan before joining up with the others once again.

As we looked up the tow path we could see the swan still in attack mode in the middle of the path and we could only guess there may be some eggs or young involved somewhere although we never saw them. I am pleased to say that as we set off once again the rain vanished for the day and we had no further encounters with violent wildlife and from here on we were set for a pleasant experience. One of the next barges we saw summed up what I think Trailtrekker will be about. It won’t be personal achievement or for those who are in it for themselves. It is a team endurance challenge and as such I thought it quite apt we spotted it soon after we were all reunited.

Not much further on we encountered a memorial to the Polish crew of a Wellington bomber that crashed during a training exercise in 1943. As always we were respectful and observed the memorial quietly before we continued along the tow path until we came to another smaller cross at the side of the path.

The stop to check out the memorials also doubled up as a chance to take on any food and water we required for the next section of canal. We set off again and soon split into three duos. Myself and Roger were at the head of affairs, closely followed by G and Beaky with L’Autobus bringing up the rear. At first the gap was only a few yards in between each group but as the yards turned into miles we had formed large gaps in between each group. In fact at one point Roger turned to find nobody behind us and we joked that the others may have stopped and gone home. The constant twists of the canal didn’t help in this respect though and even a thirty or forty yard gap could mean you were out of sight as the tow path wound its way towards Silsden.

Eventually after a good half an hour of walking without any idea of the whereabouts of the others we stopped near Lodge Hill and phoned to check all was ok. With Graham telling us that all was well and the boys had simply waited for L’Autobus we said we would continue on at a much reduced pace to allow them to all catch up, rather than stand around and risk muscles stiffening up. The legs didn’t exactly feel worked at all but both myself and Roger felt we should keep going, no matter how slowly.

Before we moved on Roger nipped for a quick pit stop giving me time to survey the surrounding countryside that was looking as beautiful as ever. The fields have plenty of life about them now the lambs are running around and it is if the whole place comes alive around lambing season. The flip side of this is a little later in the year when the fields are empty once again and I don’t like to think about what goes on when the lambs leave the fields if I am honest. Having said all that I do like my meat and lamb is my favourite, I just try to differentiate between the cute things in the fields and the tasty stuff on my plate. Not that any of that is relevant to this walk report so I shall leave that and move on.

Almost as soon as we set off we spotted the only moving barge of the day, as it came towards us about the same speed we were going in the opposite direction so we had plenty of time for a nosey before it disappeared around the bend leaving us to meander along the path. We had noticed that the slow pace we were meant to be doing to allow the others to catch us had been replaced by a more natural speed and we realised we would be walking away from everyone once again. With this in mind we found a suitable point to stop and we were more than happy to have a snack or two as the others approached. We were now roughly 10 miles in to the walk and had made good time to this point so we were all more than happy to spend 15 minutes doing whatever we needed to do for the next section. For some it was a change of socks, for others it was just a sandwich or a drink. Personally I spent a few minutes applying talc to my thighs to prevent the chaffing that I felt was starting to occur. Fortunately nobody passed at that moment and other than the dusting of talc over my boots nobody would ever have known.

With the pit stop over, we slowly eased ourselves into stride again and before long we were at top speed once again. There had been a chat between the boys that we shouldn’t constantly leave L’Autobus behind, not that they aren’t content yapping away to each other, but we felt we should all be interacting, after all we are a group and not six individuals. A couple of miles further on and we reached the first mile marker post or certainly the first one we had noticed.

I don’t think it went down particularly well with Wu Tang who was starting to complain of sore feet. When I say complain I want to be clear she wasn’t constantly moaning or grumbling about the fact she had to walk so far. She was simply commenting on the fact that her feet felt tender and were beginning to hurt. To be honest I had issues with my little toes which seemed to be rubbing and my feet didn’t feel too great. I had a little chat with Wu Tang and told her just to focus on the next section and the rest would take care of itself, so rather than contemplate the 17 ¼ miles we had to go, we focussed on the couple that we had to go to Bingley. From there I told her we would tick things off reasonably quickly as we would reach Saltaire, Shipley, Apperley Bridge and Rodley in pretty quick succession. Obviously they wouldn’t be minutes apart but up to this point we had come across nothing since setting off. What I was trying to get across is that the second half of the walk would hopefully allow us to set mini goals which were achievable and the overall goal would come naturally. With that thought in mind, we set off once again for the half an hour it would take us to reach the first of the 28 locks we would encounter from here to Leeds. In fact the first lock was also adjoined to the next four as the impressive Bingley Five Rise Locks came into view. We reached the top and used this as a place for a team rest and regrouping. After approximately five hours of walking we had reached the halfway point on this near 30 mile mammoth walk. An average of 3 miles an hour is pretty good over that distance so we were all pleased with how things were going apart from those with feet issues which now totalled everybody apart from Beaky. Something wasn’t quite right for everyone to be suffering and we could only put it down to the repetitive nature of the flat walking as opposed to the varied terrain of the hills we usually visit. A couple of people took their boots off and tried to make their feet as comfortable as possible whilst I opted for the better left alone option. With hindsight this was a mistake but nobody can make the correct decisions all of the time I suppose.

We said goodbye to the five rise staircase and almost immediately came to the three rise, or to us I suppose they should have been three drop locks. Coming in the other direction was a group of people with walking gear on and they looked like they could have been on a walk organised by/through the Ramblers Assocaition (which myself and Wu Tang are members of) as everybody seemed to be following one walk leader. We had to chuckle at the lady with a map case complete with map hanging around her neck. “Follow the water” I said to the rest of the group, which raised a chuckle. I appreciate they may well have been doing more than that section of canal but there is nothing wrong with a little light hearted fun to keep a smile on everyone’s face, especially at a time when Wu Tang was really starting to struggle with her feet. By the time we reached Dowley Gap Locks myself and Wu Tang were tailed off a little. She had to stop to take her boots off and try and repair her feet before changing her socks and hopefully reducing the rubbing. She sat on the grass as the others waited on the bridge roughly 75 yards ahead of us. We had borrowed some walkie talkies to test out for our sponsored walk and I radioed the others to ask if G was going to change his socks at Saltaire. Again I had been struggling with my toes for the last 10 minutes but chose not to change anything and to wait until we had covered the mile or so to Saltaire. With Wu Tang sorted, we joined the others and crossed the canal to joined the other bank, and this was the one and only swap of the whole walk. With Saltaire soon upon us we stopped by a burger barge (I can’t believe there is such a thing) and G opted for the sock change, once again I opted not to. With repairs done we were off once again this time for the short walk to Shipley.

Shipley came and went and we kept pushing on despite all having some sort of problem with our feet. It was clear after leaving Shipley that Wu Tang was going to struggle to see this walk through to the end but I kept telling her just to concentrate on the little bit in front of us and the rest would take care of itself. After another hour or so on the feet we came to a small swing bridge and we decided to use this as another resting place. The stops were beginning to be more frequent as our feet hurt more and more and the high average pace of the first 15 miles was a distant memory. I asked the gang how they were feeling…

Within a minute of setting off once again myself and Wu Tang were detached from the others as she struggled to find a comfortable walking pace. I hung back and we chatted as we went but I knew she wasn’t happy anymore and she was toying with the idea of quitting when we got to Apperley Bridge which was only a mile or so further on. My feet were sore and if it wasn’t for the fact I am practicing for a 62 mile walk I would have probably joined her in having those type of thoughts but I had to keep going as I needed to show myself I could push on when things weren’t going well. Sherpa G-String spotted we were tailing off and waited up for us and the change of discussion gave Wu Tang a boost and we had soon reached a sign telling us we were 9 ¼ miles from Leeds and not much after that we reached Dobson Locks where we took another ten minutes to reassess things.

After a rousing rendition of “take me home, country road, to the place, I belong, West Leeds” by Beaks we gingerly climbed off the bench and back onto our feet to head through Apperley Bridge and to Rodley. Wu had decided that she wouldn’t stop here and would get to Rodley before making a decision what to do from there. We passed Vidal’s sisters barge near Apperley Marina which we had been looking out for since Bingley. We used this as a technique to help us focus on something else and it had worked in a small way but it was hard to say if it helped massively.

The three miles in between Apperley Bridge and Rodley were three of the longest miles of my life as I tip toed along with Wu Tang as she began to become really fed up with things. It was hard to see her struggle so much and personally it was hard to go so slow as it seemed to hurt my feet more. I kept trying to laugh and joke and basically spent the whole time either talking utter gibberish trying to raise a smile or reassuring her that with every step we were nearer to Rodley and she could make a decision then.

I have to say it wasn’t a total surprise when she said she was definitely stopping at Rodley as the tears ran down her face. In all honesty I was having the same thoughts as my feet felt really bad. If the sponsored walk was Skipton to Leeds and today was the day I wouldn’t have given it a second thought, but today was only a practice and I wasn’t doing myself any favours. I phoned ahead and told G that Wu was stopping when we reached them, and that I may do too. Part of me thought by the time they got there we would find they had all decided a pint and a taxi would be best, after all we were closer to home in Rodley than we would be when we got to the city centre. When we finally reached the others Wu and Ramblo decided enough was enough and I had to do a little soul searching. I wanted to stop because I knew my feet were sore, but I didn’t want to be the only one of the Trailtrekker team to drop out. I felt like I would have let the others down even though they were saying otherwise, I couldn’t help but think at some point they would begin to question my mental strength so I laid it on the line. “I won’t be able to go as fast as you, so if you don’t mind waiting, I will go on” to which they all agreed, “I’ll set off now then and you can all catch me up” and away I went on the final six and a bit miles. I didn’t look back to see how long they waited but it didn’t take them long to catch me up and from there we all walked together. I was actually surprised that the faster pace I was doing was much easier on the feet than the very slow speed I had been doing to encourage Wu Tang along. It seemed that I wouldn’t be holding anyone up after all, and we all kept a close eye on the distance markers at the side of the path. The 5 ¼ Leeds sign was soon followed by the quarter mile marker, then the half marker appeared and three quarter marker wasn’t long in coming, finally we saw the 4 ¼. It felt like we all had a renewed energy and other than the odd stop for water or snacks we kept going at just over 3mph which wasn’t bad considering the circumstances.

We spotted a deer in the woods opposite us and we stopped for a few minutes to observe it before we moved on once again. Starting up again was tough and it took a hundred yards or so to get going properly so we tried to keep going unless absolutely necessary. We passed a few landmarks we recognised as the day light faded and we were now most definitely on the final stretch which gave me a big boost.

The final couple of miles were done in darkness and although we had all packed our head torches our eyes must have acclimatised to the light as I never felt the need. I suppose being in the city now there was lots of artificial light so it is never pitch black. We did have to walk under a couple of tunnels and bridges that I wouldn’t have liked to do on my own but with us being together it wasn’t so bad. I joked with G that I wouldn’t be able to run away anyway, so I said I would just jump in the canal should anything happen.

The final mile marker was there and I stopped to take a picture of that and the lights ahead. I was ready to stop now but in a strange way I wanted to see how much further I could go, but I knew the answer to that question was about 75 yards to the pub we had agreed on. It wouldn’t take us long to get to the end of the canal where our walk would be over. I think everyone was pleased we were done and I think we learned a little bit about each other both as individuals and as team members which was the whole purpose of the walk. We posed on the bridge with lock number 1 behind us and then went to the pub for a “livener”

We walked into the pub (which is quite a smart/trendy city centre establishment) and received a few stares as we hobbled in looking like we had been dragged through a hedge, backwards. Opting for a table outside we took our beverages and made our way (slowly) outside. The drinks of choice were varied with some opting for a beer or cider whilst others opted for a soft drink. I went for both options but I didn’t finish my lager. Now we had stopped walking and began to cool down it soon felt chilly and we phoned a taxi. The driver must have had a great laugh seeing us come around the corner in what must have been super slow motion.

There was no doubting that today had provided valuable lessons for all of us, as we learnt a lot about ourselves both individually and as part of a team. The main thing I took from it was the fact I could keep going when I was in a lot of pain due to my feet. The only worries would be how long the blisters would take to heal and if the problem was going to reoccur. The answers to both those questions would have to wait for another day, right now I had enough problems getting out of the taxi.

Sir Edmund


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