A year off from long-distance walks, the reason being that some final checks had to be done to the route outlined in my soon to be published book, On Foot from Coast to Coast: The North of England Way. The checking involved a few days of walking in excellent weather in the Lake District.
28 September 1996 (Saturday)
My North of England Way proofs arrived today.
I remembered AW saying that publishing a book was like going to the gallows. Someone else said it was like having a baby. This one has been a long confinement – over 5 years.
I know what AW meant and I nervously looked through the text and maps for any errors. Of course there were some, Day 4 had mysteriously disappeared and if left uncorrected walkers would be stranded at Windermere YH – there are worse places to be stranded en route. With work due on Monday I started reading the proofs at 9.00am and finished at 10.45pm.
29 September 1996.
I went and posted the corrections at 9.00am on a bright Sunday morning, having woken up at 5.00am with text spinning through my mind. As I left the Post Office, York Minster bells could be heard, as though in celebration of the proofs being completed. I looked at the Minster without the crowds around and was enthralled at the splendour of the sight before me (photographs taken later).
A work colleague and friend of my wife turned up for supper with us, wearing Merrill walking boots and a goretex jacket which impressed me. In addition, she had walked extensively in the wilds of Canada spotting bears and had been to the top of Mount Fuji in Japan. When later we went walking on the North York Moors she talked to sheep; this was ‘Talks with Sheep’, Penelope.
29 November 1996
I received a letter from my publisher. A few hundred books sold, even though not yet in print. Exciting, I wanted to tell the world!
1 December 1996
At last science has proved what I suspected – Guinness does have properties that are conducive to long-distance walking. Two Professors studying molecules discovered the following:
‘One evening we were drinking Guinness and realised that the reason the bubbles sank was similar to some of the other problems we were trying to solve. From general experiments we see that bubbles go up in lager. Although we have not tested all possible beers, we think there is something very special about stouts like Guinness that makes bubbles sink.
It is the relation of the different fluid dynamics of the liquid and the gas that determines whether bubbles rise or fall.’
I am able to drink Guinness when walking, but not beer or lager. It must be due to the bubbles sinking to the bottom rather than rising to the top! Of course you still get a head.
18 December 1996
Visit to my publishers Michael Joseph (part of the Penguin Group) in London with my daughter.
This was very exciting as, until my interest in long-distance walking had begun, I had never dreamt of writing a book. As I walked into my Editor’s (Jenny Dereham) office I was very impressed with the posters of distinguished authors she had worked with, including Alfred Wainwright, Dick Francis and James Herriot. What was I doing there?
I was then taken to a room to meet the marketing team, four very friendly and attractive young ladies; surely I was unmarketable? However, they seemed impressed with my ideas saying that they wished all authors were as well prepared. My view is that you sometimes only get one chance in life and so you must try and take it. Clearly I live in a different world to one member of the marketing team who did not know what a trig pillar was. We then went to see the book designer who was skilfully scanning the maps into the text.
All good things come to an end and I then had to honour my promise to take my fourteen year old daughter to the shops of London. I hate general shopping, but fortunately she soon agreed to go to the planetarium, so finishing off a very enjoyable but tiring day.
26 December 1996
Christmas Day was now over. As ever, despite excessive ‘restraint’, I had stuffed myself with porridge, toast, turkey, potatoes, vegetables, stuffing, sherry, wine, whisky, chocolates, satsumas, trifle, ham rolls, and pork pie. My cholesterol level had reached danger levels – there was only one solution, the annual village ‘Boxing Day’ walk. It would either kill or cure me. However, this year there was an ‘edge.’
For a number of years I had been the quickest to do the 5-mile walk , but I had missed the last two years due to colds. Both years, the activities of getting ready for Christmas took their toll and by Boxing Day I had developed a cold virus. Unable to keep up with Wainwright who, apparently, never had a day off work, I had been off for one day in the last two years.
This year was going to be different so that I gritted my teeth and consumed neat cod liver oil during the week before Christmas. Needless to say it worked. My son and friends (aged 16) had decided I should be knocked off my ‘walking perch’ and wagered a bet of a drink that they would beat me around the 5-mile course. My handicap was that I was nearly thirty-years older than them, but I still had one or two secret weapons.
One of weapons was that Gary acted as pacemaker for the first 3 miles, enabling me to follow in his slipstream. For some reason he can walk faster than me for the first mile or so, in the same way as a cheetah can beat a gazelle over the first 100 yards. After that, my longer legs get into a rhythm and I am able to stride ahead.
My second secret weapon was that Penelope had bought me some dried apricots for Christmas, Wensleydale cheese with apricots and Wensleydale cheese with cranberries – absolutely delicious – what else could a long-distance walker want for Christmas? After 3 miles the dried apricots were consumed and I was in effect on turbo-charge. My competitors were left standing and I arrived at the finish in a ‘world record’ time of 59 minutes and 51 seconds, with plenty of time to have a Guinness before the other 100 or so walkers appeared. Don’t forget the dried apricots when on a walk.
27 December 1996
It was now Christmas sale time. I am desperate for a new pair of walking boots. The present pair had been purchased in 1986 and had already been resoled. They had walked an estimated 829 miles on ‘official’ long-distance routes, 500 miles on other ‘holiday’ walks and 2,550 miles on day walks making a grand total of nearly 4,000 miles of walking. They deserved retirement and this was to be the year. Buying a new pair of boots is more stressful than getting married, moving house or getting divorced (I have no experience of the latter).
If given an MOT, the boots would have failed badly due to insufficient tread. They were Berghaus/Scarpa boots, an ideal partnership, but apparently the two companies had separated and this had left me in a quandary as to which boot to replace them with. I went for Scarpa and will let you know in 10 years whether I had made the right decision. Take great care in choosing your boots in the same way you would your wife (or husband). Also allow room for foot expansion as, after 200 miles of walking, your feet will be half-a-size larger.