I found myself thinking this morning as I struggled to get out of bed, having pulled a muscle in my leg, just quite how I had managed to get myself into this. Yes, it’s a wonderful cause and a great opportunity to walk across a part of the country that I have never before visited. But really – what on earth was I thinking?
It is the morning after our second training walk. As a team that is based in Sheffield we are fortunate to be extremely close to the wonderful Peak District. As many of you will know it is home to a vast array of different geographical challenges. You can go for a gentle stroll or climb a big hill. Or do both. Several times. Like we did yesterday. It can be a challenging environment to walk across – both physically and mentally – no one wants to walk up one big hill only to find another waiting for you at the top. It does however provide a perfect training environment for the event we will be taking part in just over a month’s time.
Having completed an initial 10 mile hike up through Padley Gorge, Carls Wark, Burbage and Limb Brook last month we decided that for our next training day we would attempt to double our distance and go for a 20 mile round walk.
This time round we were joined by Alex Grassam, also from the Sheffield Office, who is participating in the event in another Wessex Team. Alex found a circular route around Chatsworth taking in Froggatt, Curbar, Beeley, the Chatsworth Estate, Baslow and Calver. We set off at 8:30 from Grindleford Station heading clockwise towards Froggatt Edge.
The weather wasn’t quite as sunny as it was during our first training walk but given how hot it had been during the week it was nice to have some cloud cover and a bit of a breeze. Once we were up on Froggatt Edge the views were amazing and we took the opportunity to take some group photos.
As soon as we hit The Chatsworth Estate the weather started to turn against us. It got very wet very fast. This put neither us nor the dog owners who were participating in the Kennel Club Gun Dog Training Event off and our walk along this top part of the estate was frequented by the sound of gunfire. Every bang was responded with cries of ‘Don’t panic! Don’t panic!’.
The rain had made our trip back down the hill very difficult. We got slightly lost heading into a wooded area which meant walking down steep slopes with exposed tree roots which had become very slippery due to the falling rain. We had a few scares, all members of the team slipped at some point – ‘Don’t panic! Don’t panic’!
Our biggest slip came when I was at the front and Lincoln fell behind me and started rolling downhill. Now, I have bad knees. I used to play rugby until recently after I found out that the ligaments in my legs are like rubber bands and don’t actually hold my knees together properly. I have also ruptured knee ligaments and dislocated my kneecap whilst playing rugby. This medical history doesn’t make my career choice as an archaeologist seem like a particularly sensible one as I now spend quite a bit of time on my knees trowelling. Being also approximately half-way along the route my knees were also getting ready for a short break from walking. In summary this meant that Lincoln was rolling down the hill faster than I could run.
I don’t know how many of you will have seen the latest Star Wars movie but there is a scene where Harrison Ford’s character, Han Solo, has to run away from a large rolling alien in a scene not too dissimilar to his famous temple escape in Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark where he activates a trap is chased by a boulder (something all archaeologists dream to do at some point in their careers). There is a 34 year difference between the two films and without meaning any offence, in the latest Star Wars, Harrison Ford does run like a man in his seventies. My short run away from my rolling colleague was quite similar and up until I ran into the tree I was doing quite well and Lincoln stopped rolling just behind me.
By the time we had managed to get ourselves back on track we had added about an extra mile onto our walk so we decided to cut out part of the original walk and take a slight shortcut which would keep us within our initial 20 mile target.
Our return leg brought us through the Chatsworth Estate along the river close to the house itself. Somehow Chris managed to catch his foot on a gate and started to struggle. I wanted to leave him behind but sadly my other team mates thought it would be more in keeping with team spirit if we motivated him to continue. So I said ‘We’ll leave you behind if you don’t continue’ and offered to see if I could borrow a gun from the participants of the gun dog training if he thought it would be needed – which worked wonders.
After we had passed through Chatsworth our pace had dropped slightly and we all had some part or other that was starting to ache. Chris’ foot, Lincoln’s blisters, my hip – we had completed about 16 miles and we were feeling it. Although most of us do Geophysics as part of our job even surveying proved to be inadequate preparation for the endurance test of walking long distance over varying terrain. Out of our team I am the only one to have participated in any long distance walking before. I completed my Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award in 2009 and qualified as an Assessor whilst at University, but even my experience pales in comparison to the challenge of the event itself.
Our return back to Grindleford took us through Baslow, Froggatt and Calver, but being in the valley bottom rather than hill top, the scenery wasn’t much to write home about.
When we finally arrived back at the car park we had been walking just over eight hours (we had a bit of a longer break in Beeley before starting our return leg) and it was just gone quarter past five. Lincoln had sprinted the last 150 m so he could sit down faster and I don’t think anyone talked to anyone else for a good five minutes whilst we caught our breath. I was surprised to find that I only had two small blisters and that my kneecaps had not slid down to my ankles. This was the first major test of our fitness and endurance – with the exception of small injuries sustained during the walk I think we passed. Things didn’t start to really hurt until we stopped and we had completed roughly 21 miles in less than nine hours including stoppages to check the map, walking up steep hills, sliding down slippery slopes and having a generous break time. We were roughly in line with our target time of 25–27 hours for the actual event. Even though we were suffering a little it wasn’t as though it could get any worse until after we completed Trailwalker. How wrong I was.
Monday morning I felt like my legs were made of wood, I couldn’t bend my right knee, I felt like I needed a hip replacement and my feet were on fire whenever I stood on them. I struggled to get in the car to drive to the office never mind climb the stairs once inside. Our Logistics Manager, who served in the Army, could not stop laughing and told us how his sympathy bag was empty. A taste of things to come perhaps?
I keep stretching the muscles in my leg in the hope that in a few hours I’ll be able to walk without looking like I’ve had an accident on my way to the bathroom. Does the pain put me off the event all together? Of course not. I know it’s going to be a lot worse on the day as well as after the event. Our second practice, injuries and all, has helped prepare us for just how bad it could potentially be. But if people are kind enough to sponsor us – even if it is just to laugh at our expense then it will be worth it. I go away on holiday at the end of this week so in all likelihood this may be our last practice – although we are hoping to do some training at night when I get back in order to get used to walking in the dark. I think our second practice has prepared us for the struggles that we will inevitably face when we start walking on the 23 July and despite everything I can’t wait to get started.
By Jack Laverick