Contribution from Dr Patricia Bidmead
If you were privileged in late April to spy two bedraggled figures trudging along the towpath of the Ashby canal you have encountered Nuneaton’s ‘Have boots will travel’ volunteers. Every year for a decade two Nuneaton Drop Centre volunteers have pulled on their boots to raise money to ensure their chosen charity will be able to continue helping the mentally distressed in the locality.
Ramblers respond with awe at any mention of the famous Wainwright walks, but some of us only vaguely recall the name. However, for me, one of the two volunteers, the mere mention of Wainwright brings instant recall of some of the Rotary walks I have taken part in, generating a series of never to be forgotten experiences.
I usually set out on these treks with WD 40, the de-locking spray for the over 40s, carefully concealed in my kitbag. I try to keep my age a secret but it is fairly easy to determine within a range of ten years in spite of the fact I tint my hair, notice not dye it, to cover up the grey locks, Along with my co walker, who is shy and does not wish to be identified, I was always ready to tackle the stiles waiting to test the flexibility of my aging joints. Awkward stiles however, reckon without the WD 40 and the vitamin supplements. Lessons have been learned from every walk, especially my first when I set out alone and completely lost my bearings and therefore, after always carried a ‘sat nav’ or went with a co walker who had or claimed to have a sense of direction.
On one sponsored walk, overtaken by the spirit of competition, I strode out at great speed leaving the other competitors far behind and my companion panting for breath trying to keep up with me. In my haste, I forgot my map reading skills and his claimed expertise only extended to following the crease down the middle. To add to my misery and frustration, an eroded canal towpath almost pitched me into the water to join the ducks, who by their startled chorus of quacking seemed none too pleased to welcome me. We finally got back on tract and made it to a piece of land apply named ‘Paul’s land’ and I would have dearly liked to have made Paul walk its seemingly endless path. There was no way we could make up for lost time, thanks to leaden legs deciding to go on a defiant go-slow. Finally, we had to settle for the humiliation of being clapped home by the remaining and agitated official anxious to get home. I was, of course, adamant my staggering in last was distance and not age related. Those extra miles had taken their toll but not my enthusiasm for Rotary walks.
Retrospection always acts as a spur for the next challenge for even the dark despairing moments are remembered for their hilarity. No sponsored walk, either alone or with a companion was ever dull. One year, anxious to fill a hole in our coffers, we started with high hopes of completing the course in nine hours. After all, we had been practising hard for weeks and my purple haired companion had even bought new boots from E bay. Confidence was high as we strode out in the early stages but our bubble was soon to be deflated. Experience should have taught us that there are no certainties in this life and especially not in sponsored walks. Checkpoints 1 and 2 were reached in record time. Those hard training sessions were paying off. Then disaster struck! Just before reaching a pub called the Lime Kilns, about half way through the scheduled walk, the E bay boot curse struck. The tenuous bond between sole and upper was broken and they parted company. It was a soul sapping moment.
Contingency plans were put to the test. Hurried repairs were carried out using spare bootlaces to lash the sole into place. Gone was the original confident stride and the walk was completed at a snail’s pace with frequent pauses to re-lash the offending boot. The nine-hour goal was quietly buried. Frustrated we completed the journey in ten hours much to the amusement of other walkers and the course officials. The unfortunate walker was the butt of a torrent of jokes which ranged from – Did he have a sole purpose? Why did he go glue less? Did he offer prayers for the sole of the departed? Did he intend to finish the walk with his sole mate? For weeks after he answered to the name of Lost Sole.
Undaunted we signed up for the next challenge. Everyone participating in this challenge will have a story to tell because of the atrocious weather conditions. Mud, mud glorious mud was the story of our 2012 trek. Mud, mud and more not so glorious mud. The trouble was we did not need our blood cooling; we just needed to keep our jackets zipped up to keep warm. We set off at a reasonable pace until we remembered the excellent sandwiches available at the first stamping station. We knew from experience how quickly sandwiches could vanish when a hoard of hungry walkers were in the vicinity. Without further hesitation, an unseemly hunger driven dash through squelching mud followed. Mud splattered faces were considered a small price to pay for sampling the delicious wares provided free by a local Sandwich factory.
After getting our forms stamped, we set off on the next leg. Then of course, the inevitable happened – well nothing changes does it? We got lost, this time not looking for a quick way to the start or trying to avoid a tractor blocking the bridle path but because we missed a turning point. We ended up in the middle of a waterlogged field that even the cows and horses had abandoned due to the weather conditions. With a few well-chosen words and after backtracking for about two miles we spotted it – our salvation – a small sticker marked Rotary Walk with the magic arrow pointing us in the right direction. How we had missed it in the first place was a mystery, unless of course our orange juice had been spiked by some other competitor. Onwards, onwards we went, or should it be slid and slithered, eating our sandwiches on the hoof, ever in danger of ending face down in the boggy terrain with only a mud sandwich left to eat.
Exhausted, and muddied we began to ask ourselves, were we just plain stupid or just slightly over enthusiastic to take part in a walk on a day when so many Public events had been cancelled because of the weather. Running a soggy hand through his dripping purple hair, my companion turned to me and summed up the situation in one sentence ‘I’m under the care of a psychiatrist, what’s your excuse?’ I blamed it on being over enthusiastic and we promptly signed up for the following year.