Walk some of the Jurassic Coast – number 17

bike

The bent bike

Just six weeks prior to our great walk, my husband was knocked off his push bike. Whilst he didn’t break anything (and it’s a wonder he didn’t having been hit in the side by a car, thrown into the air and landed with a thump on the tarmac), it was a nasty accident and he was quite badly hurt. For the first week he was unable to move properly, on the second night after the accident he got stuck in bed unable to move! I couldn’t help, if I gave him a hand or a push up I would only end up hurting him more. After much gentle rolling from side to side he was eventually able to stand.

Needless to say this whole episode shook us up a bit, it could easily have been a very different story and as important as the coastal walk was to both of us, health and fitness had to come first. So started a remarkable road to recovery. The first couple of weeks were slow and painful but gradually  he was able to do more and more. I was concerned he would over do it, no matter how many times he promised me he wouldn’t! He didn’t run for five weeks, the longest time he has not run since taking it up. It was only the week before we went, that I really believed we would make it. Still concerned the route and mileage would be too much, I made him promise to tell me if it got too much. We could still go, but maybe use the help of a bus or two.

Lulworth cove

The hill we thought was steep!

The day dawned and we set off to Lulworth Cove, in the car of course, it is after all over 150 miles from home! It was a beautifully sunny day, not really one you want to spend in the car and the traffic was awful but we arrived safe and sound if a little tired and grimy. We met with our friends Jane and Chris who were accompanying us on this adventure. We parked our cars in the car park at Lulworth Cove which leads onto quite a hill. Ooh we thought, that’s steep…

Our first B&B was great. They even made lunch for us the following day. The chaps sorted the cars so that we had one car here and one at the other end and we had a pleasant evening looking forward to getting out and walking. Sunday arrived, bright and fresh and we were all ready for the challenge ahead. We planned to walk 10 to 12 miles for three days. We climbed the hill then blow me down there was another, and this one was even steeper! Our first 3 miles or so was just a series of steep ups followed by equally steep downs.

Durdle door

Durdle Door

The scenery was breathtaking, Durdle Door an obvious highlight but what struck us most was how much the path had moved. It was very clear in places where the land had slipped and the path with it. In other places the land had dropped 3 feet or so but otherwise unscathed. People were jumping onto it – braver (or should that be stupider) than me! It was a beautiful day, full sunshine, clear sky line and we could see where we had walked behind us.

landlip

The earth moved for me!

Twelve miles later and we were in Weymouth, and very ready for a sit down! Following a much needed shower we headed out for tea. My legs felt surprisingly sprightly but after an evening sitting at the dinner table I struggled to stand up again! Thankfully it turns out I wasn’t on my own.

We had a good night’s sleep in our second B&B. We had arranged for a company to pick our bags up and deliver them to our next stop. This worked amazingly well and it was a treat to arrive on foot and find our belongings waiting for us. The good sleep worked its magic and we were all ready to head out again in the morning. We had a few miles of walking across Weymouth which wasn’t the best, but well worth it when we got to the coast again and followed the Chesil Bank.

Chesil bank

Chesil Bank in the background

There was not quite as much sunshine but having burnt the backs of my knees the previous day this was fine by me. There were lots of wading and other birds on this stretch which was slightly longer at 13 miles. The coastal path also took us inland for part of the day as we headed towards Abbotsbury. We walked us some very steep hills again and had an interesting altercation with some bullocks! The trekking poles came in handy to guide the bullocks away from our path. Abbotsbury is a truly beautiful and quintessentially English village. We had hoped to go to the Swannery on arrival but it was too late so that would have to wait for the morning. We consoled ourselves with a fine cream tea from the Abbey House.

cygnets

The cygnets were worth the wait

Our final day of walking started with a tour of the Swannery. Knowing we were so close at this time of year, it was a must visit place with all the new cygnets finding their wings. Totally gorgeous. This turned out to be our longest walk, 15 miles and more hills. We were all very tired by the end when we had to hurry in response to a phone call from the B&B owners to tell us they were heading out shortly and if we didn’t get there within 15 minutes we wouldn’t get into our rooms until after 10pm. Thankfully we made it with what felt like seconds to spare and amazingly as we arrived the rain did too. Having spent the last three days in glorious sunshine yet hearing of all our friends back home in cold rain and floods in France we had been incredibly lucky.

This experience surpassed anything I could imagine it would be. Walking to our accommodation gave a whole different perspective on arriving somewhere (helped of course by knowing our bits and pieces would be waiting for us!) and it is rare that we head out for a walk and not end up back in the place we started. We covered 40 miles in three days, a feat I know others can easily exceed, but for me quite an achievement. We all enjoyed the experience so much we have decided to continue next year – start at our last B&B and keep going round!

End of wlak

Half a mile from the end of our walk

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Re-visit Belgium and visit Flanders Fields – numbers 13 and 25

Our summer holiday this year took us to Belgium. As with the previous three years, we swapped houses with a family and it was their suggestion that led to this swap, we took this as a sure sign we needed to do the things we had planned. We stayed about 25 km to the east of Bruges and this of course was the opportunity to tick off two items on the list.

Firstly I will explain why I wanted to re-visit Belgium. For four and a half years, from being nearly 6 years old to 10 years old, I lived on the outskirts of Brussels. I have fond memories of living there and have been back once before but that now is also many years ago. This time I could take my daughter and show her where I used to live. My husband, his two children and I spent a full two weeks in the house, Lauren joined us from her home in Denmark for 5 days. The four of us headed to Brussels Airport at Zaventem to pick her up. We were subject to security checks and x-rays on our way into the airport, but with the bombing of the airport so recent that is hardly surprising. Lauren duly arrived and our first meal was dry bread and cheese on the benches at the airport – we know how to show a girl a good time!

The weather wasn’t good on the day, but we didn’t let that put us off, well not too much anyway. Stomachs filled we headed off to my old stomping ground, only a short drive from the airpHouseort. Driving down my old road was odd, familiar yet unfamiliar at the same time, and it certainly seemed much shorter. The one solidly familiar landmark was the garage across the road from our house. I remember how the light of the sign used to shine through my curtains. And there was my house…almost exactly as I remembered it but with a new front door. Well, I suppose the other one wasn’t new when we moved in and that was over 40 years ago so some change is inevitable. Our house was a three storey town house, with one more before the end of the terrace. However, now there are a further two houses on the end, very different in style but joined onto what was our neighbour’s house all the same.

Mannenken pis

From there we drove into the centre of Brussels, going past the park where we used to go, particular memories of sledging down its slopes. We drove under the Cinquantenaire a landmark I remember well and past the European Parliament buildings. These are all new now and very different from the curved faced ones from when I was there. In Brussels the rain came down quite heavily but we still braved it to see the Manneken Pis, pictured, and the Grand Place. Wet and weary we then headed back to our holiday home.

This break also enabled us to go to Ypres. Linked of course to the Poppies in the moat (number 2) but also to the work my husband has been doing on Tommy’s Footprints. This is about the training camp at our local park, set up by the Duke of Bedford between 1914 and 1916. Over 2300 men trained there, over 700 never returned. For this visit, we focused on those lost on the night of 19-20 April 1916 defending the canal leading into Ypres itself.

Essex Farm Cemetery

Six crosses for the six fallen

We went to the Flanders Fields museum first which gave a history of the war in the Flanders region and where our local men were sent to fight. From there we headed to the Essex Farm Cemetery. Located alongside the canal where they fought, this cemetery served to bury those killed just a few feet away. We knew six of the men who had trained at the camp were buried here and set about locating their graves and leaving a small cross on which we had added their name and the name of the camp in remembrance. Others from the Bedfordshire Regiment were buried alongside our six. The cemetery is host to 1097 known casualties and standing there among the graves of these fallen men was a truly humbling experience. To know that this was just a fraction of those killed in Flanders, let alone across the whole war, was heartbreaking and to see that the youngest in the cemetery was but 15 years old, brought home the waste of so many young and vibrant men and boys. For more information on Tommy’s Footprints, please go to the Facebook page.

 

InFlandersFields

Plaque with text of In Flanders Fields in Essex Farm Cemetery © MarnixR

This is where the Canadian Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae served as surgeon, the dugouts where he tended the wounded still there. It must have been a very grim experience, noted by the poem, ‘In Flanders Fields’, written my McCrae after the funeral of a fellow soldier and friend. McCrae himself did not survive the war.

From here we headed back into Ypres and to the Menin Gate. Another gut wrenching moment when the enormity of the loss is illustrated by the names on the inside of the gate. Soldiers, of all ranks, from Great Britain and the Commonwealth are remembered here, 54 389 men whose bodies were never identified or indeed so torn apart that nothing remained. We found a further 13 of the men who trained locally here and had perished that same night. Every evening at 8pm, the Last Post is sounded at the Menin Gate and we stayed for this moving ceremony. Every night since 1928 (excepting the 6 years of WWII) this act of remembrance has filled the early evening. On the day we were there, air cadets from Swadlincote were taking part in the ceremony. The Last Post was sounded, wreaths were laid, the poem for the fallen recited and finally the Reveille sounded to end the ceremony. It was all very dignified and, while on the one hand nothing anyone can do could alleviate the hell of the time, it felt a fitting tribute that has lasted and will continue to last for years to come.

On this holiday, we also went to the site of the Battle of Waterloo. One hundred years before WWI, it also painfully highlighted the destructive nature of war. This is a site I had visited as a child, but much has changed, not least because of the bicentenary in 2015. The 3D film showing key points in the battle and our visit to Hougoumont Farm, the British and allied headquarters and site of much blood shed depicted the horror that all sides endured. The original crucifix in the chapel at the farm, charred and with one leg burnt away, looks down on the now peaceful site with sorrow.

CRucifix

The crucifix burned during the fighting