Well I'd like to think that after the unexpected, and rather dramatic start to the New Year, life in the Bailey household is slowly getting back to normal. Mrs PBT's has made a good recovery, considering what she has been through, and is pretty much back to her usual self.
Now that the snow and ice have finally melted she will be able to get out and about on her own again, without having to rely on me. She admits that she needs to get out and do some walking, in order to build up her stamina and get some invigorating fresh air into her lungs.
On the subject of lungs, her illness and subsequent treatment has allowed her to finally quit the habit she has had from the age of 15 (or perhaps even earlier). Eileen is now a non-smoker; five weeks hospitalisation, including a week on a ventilator under sedation, means her body has lost its craving for nicotine; so following the adage that every cloud has a silver lining, some good has come from her incapacitation and near death experience.
The other major change is that we are now officially a two-car household, as son Matthew has finally got himself a set of wheels. No more late night pick-ups for me, and in fact there is now the prospect that he can now drive his old dad to the pub and back!
Returning to the subject of walking for a while, I have decided to complete the North Downs Way, long distance footpath, although this will be a "work in progress" rather than my previous undertakings (South Downs Way and Weald Way), within a set timetable.
Last summer, I joined a small group of friends in walking a couple of stretches of the NDW Canterbury loop, (Wye to Chartham in the hills above the Stour Valley and a more open stretch between Shepherdswell and Dover). There are a couple of gaps in the loop, to fill in, before I can return to Dover and begin the long westward journey towards the finish/start of the trail in the Surrey town of Farnham; so the journey really is only just beginning.
My plan for completing the walk is to break it down into a number of stages, each between eight and twelve miles in length. That way I can pick and choose whichever section takes my fancy, and am I tempted to make a start before Easter, as I've got three days annual leave to take before the end of the financial year. Like many company’s my employer works on a "use it or lose it" basis, although we are allowed to carry a certain number of days over.
The NDW is quite different from its southern counterpart because, whilst it follows a similar line which sticks quite closely to the escarpment, it does pass close to some of the most densely populated areas of southern England.
The SDW on the other hand, passes through a much more rural landscape, apart from the section to the north of Brighton. The advantage for me, is that many of the starting and finishing points on the NDW are within easy travelling distance from home; with many readily accessible by public transport.
It was 10 years ago when a friend and I set off to walk the 100 or so miles from Eastbourne to Winchester. We completed the walk the following year, having divided the trail up into three manageable sections.
We stayed over night at B & B establishments along the way; some of which were pubs, and in the evenings especially, there was normally plenty of beer consumed to rejuvenate a tired and aching body. I cannot overstate the enjoyment of walking through some of the most attractive landscapes in southern England, the camaraderie and the people we met along the way.
The sense of achievement we felt at finishing, celebrated by our arrival of the Hospital of St Cross, just outside Winchester, where we asked for, and received the "Wayfarer's Dole" of bread and ale, is something I still remember to this day.
Sadly, I'm not sure now whether my friend and walking companion will be able to accompany me for much of the NDW. He is 10 years older than me, and has recently been diagnosed with an ailment peculiar to men; particularly those of advancing years. He may, of course, be able to join me on some of the stages, and I will do my best to include him wherever possible.
Sometimes it's nice to walk alone, especially when you fancy a bit of solitude, but the enjoyment which comes from shared experiences on the trail, such as appreciating a spectacular view, laughing at a particularly funny joke or sinking that first pint of the evening, is something which cannot be under-estimated.
It’s still early days, but it’s nice to set a challenge, plan it out and then set off to accomplish it. The fact the challenge is a physical one makes it even better, and walking the length of the county and then heading into neighbouring Surrey will take me to places I’ve not been to before, even though they’re at most a few hours drive or train ride away.
In the meantime, you can read about my experiences of walking the South Downs Way, by clicking on the following links.