Walking Review 2013

Published 30 December 2013. Last updated 30 January 2020

“What you should do is set a target of one fell. Then if you do a lot more, you’ll be happy!”

The words of my partner Catherine as I was pondering how many fells I would aim to do during our summer holiday in the Lake District. I’d been thinking about fifteen or twenty. And here she was trying to persuade me to have one as a target.

I wasn’t particularly convinced by Catherine’s argument. My philosophy on targets is simple. You want to set something that’s achievable but which you need to stretch a little in order to reach. If you can reach your target too easily, then you’ve got it wrong. You can’t cheer and pat yourself on the back if you’ve barely exerted any effort to get there. And if you can never reach your target, then you’ll never be able to celebrate.

That philosophy is what I have in my mind when I set my walking goals for the year. And every year I’ve done so, I’ve managed to reach my target. Sometimes even exceeded by a little.

But this year had a curveball. It came in the form of a small baby; our first child. Suddenly everything changed; I had nothing to measure anything against. It was difficult to know in advance whether the plans I had made would be achievable.

December is the time to review and reflect. So how did I do?

The Thames Path

In the sand near Gabriel’s Wharf, London

This was the big goal for the year. Walking the whole thing. With a baby.

Prior to Sam’s arrival this would have been a doddle. It’s about 180 miles long. You can do it in two weeks without hassle, by relatively un-taxing 13 mile days. Now to be honest, I didn’t expect us to be doing 13 miles a day with a small child in tow. But nine or ten, that could work.

So we set off on our first day walking with that vaguely in mind. Sam was about four months old by this point and we ended up doing about six miles. And it turned out to be one of the most exhausting six miles I’ve ever walked.

The next stage we did a similar distance. Indeed most stages we’ve done so far were the same. Very quickly it was clear we’d never make it to the source in 2013. We’d need about 30 days of walking, which we simply didn’t have. Family visits, bad weather, seeing friends, illness, the whole caboodle meant that by November we’d managed to get a whole seven days on the trail, and reached only the Greater London boundary. When it came to reaching a goal, we failed hopelessly. Before Sam we would simply have polished it off with a few weekend walks, but that’s not as easy with a baby.

Quite when we’ll ever reach the source, I don’t know. As Sam gets older, it’s going to get harder and those distances we walk each stage aren’t going to get any longer anytime soon. Still, the plan is to keep on going. There’ll be more Thames Path in 2014, although how far we’ll get is anyone’s guess.

Goal: walk entire Thames Path
Result: FAIL

Thames Path Extension

Metal person at Royal Arsenal

If walking the Thames Path wasn’t enough, I also planned it add on the Thames Path Extension – a 13 mile addition from the Thames Barrier which heads further east.

Of those 13 miles, I did about a mile and a half, mainly as on our first day of walking the Thames Path, we followed it from Woolwich to get to the Thames Barrier.

The rest of it? No chance. I still intend to do it all, however only once I’ve made it to the source of the Thames.

Goal: walk the Thames Path extension
Result: FAIL

Wainwrights

With our summer holiday planned for the Lake District, the chance to bag some Wainwrights was not something I could ignore. At the time of setting my goals I had absolutely no idea what I’d be able to achieve. It was a family holiday after all, and I couldn’t spend all my time alone in the hills. Besides, I didn’t even know how long we’d spend there.

Eventually we settled on a plan to spend two weeks up in the Lakes – a good choice. Sam made it up two fells, and almost reached the top of a third. And I made it up fifteen more, giving a result of 20. A good number reached mainly by doing some classic fell walks. The Fairfield Horseshoe allows you to bag eight in one go; the Langdale Pikes five. All in all, a good result.

Goal: walk “some” wainwrights
Result: SUCCESS!

Downs Link

In previous years I’ve gone off for a week or so walking by myself. When you have a young child, that doesn’t seem hugely practical, although in reality I did end up with two weeks away from home – both working in Seattle.

Instead I planned to do some day hikes along two different trails in the South East. I figured having four different days of walking spread across the whole of the year might just be achievable.

Downs Link is a 37 mile long walk that connects the North and South Downs Way, mostly following old railway lines. I figured I could do it in two day walks.

This plan swiftly fell apart when the first attempted walk was so wet and soggy that I headed back home earlier than intended. Then I hit a problem. For various reasons, I needed to do the rest of the walk on Sundays, and a lack of Sunday buses in the area meant I couldn’t get back.

For some time it seemed I had no chance of finishing it off. It took months before I could finally get back, completing the rest of the walk over the course of a weekend away in November. But at least it’s done.

Goal: walk Dows Link trail
Result: SUCCESS!

St Swithun’s Way

Another walk, of 34 miles, that I planned to do in two day hikes, it fell victim to lack of time. I never even got close to even planning it, especially as I didn’t want to start it until I’d done the Downs Link. Next year maybe.

Goal: walk St Swithun’s Way
Result: FAIL

In Conclusion

The message from the year is that when you’ve got a small baby, you want to keep your plans a bit simpler than I did. The fact is that time has become a lot sparser.

But the trick is to still get out and about. I’m firmly of the view that you can’t stop doing things you love just because you’ve got children. And as they get older, the easier it will be. I hope, anyway.

Roll on 2014 then. The new year is coming. What walking will it hold? Only time will tell.

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