27 November 2007

Straight after work last Wednesday, Lynda and I headed off to Hampshire for a long weekend break. We were staying with Lynda’s aunt and uncle and the plan had been to join them on a walk on Thursday morning. As it was, my feet were not up to walking more than a mile or so at the very most (still recovering from my BHF walk!) so Lynda went on the walk whilst I had a look around the village of Hurstbourne Priors, where the walk started and finished.

Although very nice, the village turned out to be also rather small. Walking at a very slow pace, I managed to walk from one end of the village to the other, and back, in little over an hour, that included photo stops and time stood just watching the river flow by.

The River Test - Hurstbourne Priors.

Mistletoe growing in the village.

St. Andrew's Church - Hurstbourne Priors.

Cross in the grounds of St. Andrew's Church.

Carving on the stone cross.

By 11:45AM, I was sat in The Hurstbourne Inn enjoying a pint of Strongbow. By the time the walkers arrived back for lunch, I had enjoyed a second pint. Having badly blistered feet can have its good points! Lunch was rather good too… sausage with mashed potato and onion gravy.

The bar at The Hurstbourne Inn.

On Friday, I sat and read for much of the day while everyone else visited the National Trust’s new Head Office in Swindon. I’m still not sure whether the reason for the trip really was the NT building or the designer outlet shopping centre next door!

Saturday and Sunday were both relaxing family days - much of the time being spent catching up on news and also eating and drinking! Having a Chinese take-away just up the road is always very handy.

18 November 2007


Another year, another British Heart Foundation High Peak Trail Winter Challenge Walk completed! The only difference this year was the weather - horrible just about covers it!

The weather forecast had changed so much over the past few days that I’d given up worrying about it, I was doing the walk regardless of the conditions so why dwell on it. When the rain started to beat against the bedroom window so hard that it woke me up at 3:00AM this morning I did wonder at my sanity though.

By the time I was ready to leave the house, at 7:15AM, the rain had eased to a steady downpour. Once all my waterproof clothing, boots and food were loaded into the car I set off for Cromford, the start of the walk. By 8:15AM I had met up with Paul, who was doing the walk with me, I was dressed up like I was going on a walk to the North Pole, I had signed in with the BHF organises and was I ready for the off.

For the past two years Paul and I have posed for photos at the start line, this year the rain was coming down too heavily for me to risk getting the camera out so off we set. The first two check points were reached in exactly the same times as last year - Black Rocks in 45mins; Middleton Top in 1hr 5mins - so the constant rain wasn’t having too much of an effect on us. Middleton Top also gave us the chance to grab a quick drink from the BHF staff without having to delve into our rucksacks for our own supplies.

On the lower ground we ONLY had to worry about flood water on the trail!

The next time check on my list was Minninglow, 6½ miles on from Middleton. We covered this section in 1hr 47mins, enough to put us 8mins ahead of last year. It was on this section that the rain finally stopped; problem was it turned to sleet and then a short while later snow! The weather was turning into a bit of an issue now. Paul and I weren’t too bothered by it - we both had full waterproofs, good boots and the benefit of doing this walk before - the “baggy jeans and trainers brigade” (inexperienced walkers in totally the wrong clothing for the conditions) were having a rough time of it. The trail was now a cross between a mud bath, a melting glacier and a shallow stream!

At Minninglow, we took a 10min break. Paul took advantage of the free soup on offer; I started on a cereal bar and an energy drink. Life was good! We had food, we had drink and we had sunshine. Well, okay I made the last bit up, it was actually snowing harder now.

The longer we walked, the more it snowed!

After our little rest break it was a 2½ mile section to Friden. For the past two years this picnic area has been our lunch stop, a time to sit down, eat and have a drink. Today, we both tried our best to unpack what food we could eat on the go whilst trying our best not to get too much sleet and snow inside our bags. Just 5mins later, we were on the go again. I learnt something at this point… unwrapping and then eating a meat pie with waterlogged gloves on is NOT an easy thing to do! Another walker’s dog even tried to pinch my pie at this point!

Stage 5 was another 2½ mile section, this time we were aiming for the cycle hire centre, and café, at Parsley Hay. We arrived here at 12:50PM, which meant that we were now 10mins ahead of last year’s time. I wasn’t really aiming to finish the walk in any set time but it was nice to know that even though the weather had been against us from the start we were on target for setting a new best time, for me at least.

The view at Parsley Hay.

Two ice cream signs at Parsley Hay caught my eye. The red and white “heart” logo fitted in well with the BHF sponsorship and the “summer inside” sign, covered in snow, was somewhat ironic I thought! After a short break of 5mins it was onto the final leg of the journey, a 2 mile sprint to the finish.

I don't think I'll bother with an ice cream, thank you!

This final part of the walk was covered in 30mins, the same as last year, but it was the hardest part for me. With just under ¾ of a mile to go I suddenly felt a sharp stabbing pain in my left heal. The next step was even worse - straight away I knew what I’d done, I’d blistered the back of my heal and it had burst. With under a mile to go there was no way I was going to stop and try and do anything with it - not that I had any plasters or anything with me - so it was grin and bear it for just a short while longer.

With just a hundred yards or so to go to the finish, I issued a challenge to Paul, “Let’s run and cross the finish line!”. Whether he will thank me for it or not I don’t know, but we did it! We may not have been running at much of a pace but we did pass about four or five people on our charge to the line, much to the amusement of the BHF official who was welcoming people home! A quick check of my watched showed we finished at 1:25PM, a full 10mins quicker than last year. The total walk time being 5hrs 10mins.

A VERY welcome sight!

So, the walk is over and my own personal damage count is two big blisters, two rather tired legs and a little toenail that has gone black. No doubt the nail will be falling off at some point in the next few weeks, just like it did two years ago!

That just leaves the important bit - the sponsorship! As of this moment, I have raised a total of £302.08 when the gift aid is added to the money I have in sponsorship. As there are still one or two more sponsors to be added to this figure I’m more or less certain that I will beat my target of £350.

All that remains for me to do is to say a HUGE thank you to everyone that has been generous enough to help me raise the money.


17 November 2007


I’ve now broken the £300 barrier!

A couple more sponsors this evening has seen me move a little closer to reaching my £350 target.

There's still time to add a donation!


Well, it’s almost time to pull on my walking boots again. At around 8:00AM tomorrow I will be starting the British Heart Foundation High Peak Trail Winter Challenge Walk. If the weather forecast is correct, it will be 17.5 miles of wind, rain and mud - an ideal way to spend a Sunday morning I reckon!

The weather forecast has changed, slightly for the better, over the past 36 hours so maybe the rain won’t be too bad. I have just been out and purchased a new pair of waterproof walking trousers though, just in case!

As of this moment (4:00PM) I have raised just over £290 in sponsorship when the gift aid is included, so I’m not too far short of the £350 target I set myself. I hope that by the end of the walk I will have taken that total past my target.

So, all I need to do now is get to the start line, do a bit of walking, come home and then send off the money! Oh, if only it was that easy - just the thought of it is making my knees hurt!

Paul, if you read this before the morning… “I’ll see you at the start line, mate!”

11 November 2007

Center Parcs

Is it really a week since I last posted here? Holidays always go so much quicker than a normal working week!

Monday: The drive down to Suffolk was much easier than I had feared it would be - the fog had all cleared by the time the sun came up and the traffic, although very heavy at times, was a lot kinder to us that I had expected. The journey took us just over 3 hours but that was mainly due to a traffic jam on the last couple of miles of the trip. As luck would have it the traffic hold up was a blessing in disguise as we ended up following Neil, Susan and Chloe into the car park.

Once we had parked the cars, we all set off to explore the village and to find our home for the week. That’s when we hit the first minor problem - the villa we had been allocated was still in use! Back to the reception desk to find out what was going on. After a short delay we were informed there had been a mix up with the bookings and that we were now in a different villa - the new one turned out to be in a much nicer location too.

Our home for the week.

As we couldn’t get into the villa until 3:00PM, we had plenty of time to look around the village square, fit in a second breakfast and try to get a feel for the layout of the forest trails and walkways. By the time darkness fell, I just about had the place worked out.

In the evening, Lynda and I ate in the covered courtyard outside the Italian restaurant - a pasta buffet consisting of four different pasta courses and a whole load of salad. I skipped the seafood dish! (Fish needs to be wrapped in batter, have a heap of chips next to it and some mushy peas for me to be interested!) To finish off a rather nice meal we forced ourselves to have a huge slice of Coffee and Walnut cake each! Once back at the villa it was time for another couple of beers before heading off to bed.

Tuesday: Started the day with breakfast on the go - a gorgeous sausage cob for me and a bacon and cheese wrap for Lynda, both from the supermarket in the village square. By the time we had polished off breakfast it was straight into the swimming dome! When we had first arrived we didn’t think that the pool area looked too big compared to the Sherwood Forest village, thankfully we were wrong. The main pool was a good size and there were also two outdoor pools, two waterslides, the outdoor rapids and a single short, but very fast, straight slide. With all that lot to go at we spent most of the day in the swimming dome!

Inside the swimming dome.

We did manage to drag ourselves out of the water by late afternoon and then, after a quick shower and change of clothes, we headed back to the “beach” by the main lake for the evening's firework display. The whole village square was in party mode for the evening - there were stilt walkers, a Samba band and dancers, stalls selling glow-sticks, soup, a hog roast, an outdoor bar (I didn’t need that - I took a few cans of beer with me!) and a noodle bar. I can’t comment on the quality of the pork cobs as we didn't try them but the chicken noodles were great! Oh, and the fireworks were pretty good too!

Fireworks by the lake.

As Neil, Susan and Chloe hadn’t eaten at the beach we all headed off to Huck’s, the American diner, after the fireworks had finished. They all had a full meal whilst Lynda just had a pudding! I somehow managed to fit in a huge plate full of potato skins and chilli, and a few more beers! Lynda took the opportunity to have a cocktail, something she always does at least once at Center Parcs.

Wednesday: A slow and relaxing day. Lynda had a “Frangipani Body Nourish Wrap” at the spa! It sounded like something you’d eat to me but I’m told it was a beauty treatment that involved Lynda being coated in scented oils and then wrapped in tin foil! A bit like a Christmas turkey but without the oven I guess! Whilst Lynda was marinating in oils, I watched Chloe on the indoor climbing wall.

I met Lynda in the Country Club after her treatment where we had coffee and cakes, or in my case two cakes. Most of the afternoon was then spent chilling out in front of the TV. Neil, Susan, Chloe and I had an hour or so in the pool area in the early evening before we all went to Hugo’s restaurant at night. I think this was the best meal of the week - excellent food, pleasant relaxing atmosphere and a very nice bottle of wine.

Thursday: I was out of bed long before everyone else so I took myself off for a full-cooked breakfast in the Sports Café. I chose the café as it was by far the nearest place that was doing breakfast - big mistake! In the time it took to have my order taken and the food brought out to me, I could have walked all the way to the Country Club, eaten breakfast and walked back again! To me, an hour to get a cooked breakfast is pushing it just a little too far - and it’s not as if they were busy as there were only four tables seated including myself! Lynda and I then spent the whole day in the swimming dome.

Me, being a big kid!

Another little tradition that we have picked up over the years of going to Center Parcs is the pick and mix sweets - we always bring a big bag home each. This year was no exception and we somehow managed to both finish up with £4.37 worth of different sweets - I still have plenty left, Lynda has eaten all of hers!

Now, Thursday evening’s meal. We had planned to eat in Bella Italia but after waiting for almost an hour and still not being seated, and also seeing just how slow the table service was, we decided to go to Huck’s Diner again instead. We started with a plate full of potato skins to share and then it was a case of burgers all round and boy, were the burgers round! Once we had finished them we were all close to bursting! By the time we got back to the villa it was getting quite late so it was a case of a quick beer and then off to bed.

Friday: As this was our last day the first thing to do was get the cars packed and then go in search of breakfast. No mistakes today, it was straight to the Country Club! The service was very fast, the food great, so no problems there. Next stop was the swimming dome and we all spent the morning on the water slides, rapids and just messing around in the main pool.

In the afternoon Lynda and I had to say goodbye to everyone else as we had a three hour spa session booked - the perfect way to end the week! The favourite rooms for me had to be the Turkish Hammam and the Balinese Multi Steam Bath. The rest of the spa was great but those two just had the edge. Lynda found the water bed very much to her liking and I think she would be there still, if I hadn’t fetched her off it!

That left us with just one last thing to do before we set off for home - The Pancake House! By now, it was almost 5:30PM and we were getting hungry. There was no way we would be home much before 9:00PM so a meal before we left was a priority. One large size savoury pancake each, followed by one slightly smaller sweet pancake each and we were ready to hit the road!

So, we’ve now visited all four of the Center Parcs villages in the UK. Would I make the long journey to Suffolk again? Maybe, but not for a few years. As Sherwood Forest is less than an hour away I can’t see the point in spending all the extra time driving, and the extra fuel money, on going anywhere else but Nottingham for a while. It was a great week though!

More photos from the week HERE!

04 November 2007

Holiday time...

Well, it’s very nearly holiday time! In a little over eight hours we should be on the road to Center Parcs. This time we are off to Elveden Forest in Suffolk, a village that we have not been to before, and I can’t wait!

The only thing that I’m not looking forward to too much is the drive there. We always try to get to Center Parcs for around 10:00AM, so that we can make the most of our time there, even though we cannot get into the accommodation until 3:00PM. This will mean leaving home at about 7:00AM tomorrow. The time isn’t a real problem but the traffic on the M1 and A14 could well be a BIG problem! Monday morning rush hour is crazy enough at the best of times but it looks like we’ll be doing a good part of the 130 miles or so in thick fog. The fog is already quite thick outside tonight and all the smoke from people having bonfires and fireworks is only making things worse.

Still, the forecast is for a reasonably dry week so once the car is parked up the fun can start. The beer is all ready to be packed in the car, I’ve a new bottle of whisky to go with it, my MP3 player is loaded with a fresh batch of music and I even have all my clothes packed! Okay, so Lynda has packed for me, with a little guidance from myself!

As usual the swimming pool, water rapids and slides will be our main focus but Lynda and I do have a spa session booked and it looks like I’ll be being dragged into roller-skating with Chloe! So far, I have avoided having to join her on the indoor climbing wall, the outdoor high ropes and also the 13-meter abseiling tower, but that may well change once we get there!

See you next weekend!