Bury St Edmunds.

Saturday/Sunday 5/6 April 2014 – Bury St Edmunds.

On Thursday evening El and I were sitting around home chatting and quite randomly decided that we should go somewhere and stay the night on Saturday. We had a hurried look on the interweb mainly at train timetables and maps of places within a couple of hours from home – and were then horrified at how much train fairs were at the last minute…. We looked at York for instance, return for two people 400 pounds. This is just insane – what the hell is wrong with these people! Obviously with some pre-planning it would be cheaper, but we are not always pre-planning people. Anyway, we decided on Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk. It had a cathedral, a market, a nice hotel and was cheap enough to travel to, cheap enough that we decided to go first class. I have never done first class on a train before – or any other form of transport for that matter. Where is my first class appropriate collar and tie you may ask ?this is a civil society after all !

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The forecast promised us a cloudy but rain free day on the Saturday and showers on Sunday, which suited us fine. We left mid morning from Liverpool St for Ipswich, where we had a connecting train, and though we left on time for some unknown reason we were late arriving so ended up with an extra thirty minutes in Ipswich station, surprisingly it was not that exciting, and the coffee was crap as well.

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We arrived in Bury St Edmunds and on the walk from the station to the hotel we passed a record fair, that just had to be visited later in the afternoon… We walked though the nicer parts of the market town and with a little bit of g-mapping found our hotel easily enough.

The Georgian era hotel looks really nice from the front and Charles Dickens stayed there in the 1800’s and is mentioned in his book The Pickwick Papers, slightly less cerebrally Angelina Jolie stayed there while filming Tomb Raider. Sadly I can report that while I have seen Tomb Raider I have not read The Pickwick Papers.

Once checked in we decided to go for a walk around the old part of the market town, have some lunch and check out the record fair. The Angle Hotel is on Angel Hill and over the road from St Edmundsbury Cathedral. I gleaned the following from a Suffolk guide book “Throughout the middle ages Angel Hill served as the site for the Bury Fair, attended by traders and entertainers from all over Europe. Today it still attracts visitors from abroad and home, but mostly serves as a car park.” I just found that hilarious…. And here it is – the site of the famous Bury Fair, and the front of our hotel.

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Our first stop was the cathedral over the road, though I am a little confused about what bits are from what era, the original abbey was started in 1065, though the actual cathedral part was not fully completed until 2010… I do like cathedrals, but not so much the modern ones and I was a little disappointed. It was nice, but not “wow, how did they do this x hundreds of years ago nice”. The organist was having a wee jam session while we there and it was very loud – and not my cup of tea musically.

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I am a huge sucker for high vaulted roofs!

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The older parts of the abbey were round the back in the gardens and we decided to get lunch first and check them out later. We walked up through the market, a mix of traditional farmers markets – prices half that of London, and the same old plastic crap that is for sale in every market on every continent. The shops were fairly bland as well, the usual suspect high street retailers and the only boutique type places catered for a different market to us. The record fair was a bit of a disappointment as well, only a couple of people selling stuff, there was an LP copy of NZ’s Straightjacket Fits ‘Hail’ album and I was tempted, but did not buy it in the end.

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I can report that lunch was good, the highlight of the trip to be honest!

We had a table reserved in the hotel restaurant and reviews had been pretty good, so we had high expectations. It was however, like the rest of day and was slightly disappointing. The menu was reasonable, the food was OK, it looked good and was prepared well – it just didn’t set the taste buds on fire. At dessert they got El’s cheese board wrong and the waiter said the port he served me was the cognac I asked for,  when I said it was port he almost argued with me, it was even in a port glass!  They were both sorted out, but not what we expected for the price.

There was quite a cool little underground bar in the hotel, we went down for a drink and by the time we managed to get our drinks all the seats were taken so we ended up heading back to our room to watch Match of the Day on TV – I will admit that was likely anyway.

The hotel was grossly overpriced for what it was, and our room was pretty shabby compared to places we have stayed in that have been a lot cheaper, but positives I can say about the room was even though the place was pretty busy it was dead quiet, and the bed very comfortable, a mega-sleep was had.

After another bout of rubbish service and an average breakfast we were going to walk around the abbey gardens before heading home. However the rain put paid to those plans so I nipped out to take a couple of photos of the abbey – including rain drops, before grabbed a break in the showers and nipped to the station.

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We were lucky to get first class tickets on the way back as the train had a stop in Cambridge on the way back and what seemed like 10,000 people got on the train. It is the weekend of the annual Oxford and Cambridge boat race on the Thames in London and there were a lot of fans travelling.

I am glad we went to Bury St Edmunds, it was nice to go away, and walk and hang out together – but we won’t be rushing back, even though I would have liked to explore the abbey gardens a bit more, just in case I missed something.

A wee trip to Cornwall.

Wednesday 31 July 2013 – Cornwall.

Crikey, another month over- 2013 is disappearing so fast !

On Sunday I picked up a Vauxhall Astra that I had hired from a rental company just down the road from El in Walthamstow, after loading a few days worth of stuff we excitedly headed off on our first road trip – and El’s first experience of me behind the wheel…

Our first stop was lunch with my daughter Meliesha in Bristol. The journey to Bristol was pretty quick, I was expecting a lot more traffic on the motorways given it was the school summer holidays, but apart from some roadworks that just seemed endless on the notoriously awful M25 it was plain sailing all the way. Luckily Mel’s new flat was not far off the motorway exit ramp so we didn’t even get lost. We went for a very nice vege roast lunch at the pub up the road and sat outside in the sun for a couple of hours before El and I left to get back on the road for the longer drive down to Cornwall. It was so nice to see Mel again, and Dickie of course !

I had to really resist the urge to go on a street art walk, there is some great stuff in Bristol, but it was not on the way to where we were going and I could have taken hours… I did snap this as we walked though.

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We had no real plan for the day and no accommodation booked for the night so just drove down towards Cornwall, through Exmoor and past a whole load of places that I visited when I was supporting Mal on his epic epic 1014km run last year.

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It was strange driving past some of these small villages I shot through last June, I was a bit of a bore to poor El, regaling her with memories of the run and I have just had a slight blogging detour and wandered off to re-read Mals posts about the run. Epic really is the word.

We had sort of picked the coastal town of Bude as a possible place to spend the night and arrived there in the late afternoon and conveniently the local hotel had a room available. The hotel was a classic old school English hotel, we were the youngest people by about fifty years and I am sure I was looked at sideways when I wore flip flops to dinner ! The food was very nice though and the banoffee pie was (almost literally) to die for.

We had a good walk around Bude before tea and I ended up taking more photos here than anywhere else in Cornwall, a lovely spot.

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On the top of the hill I saw a marker for the southwest coast path and the trail heading off over the cliff tops and into the distance and it really made me want to go for a run. I haven’t run in weeks, no motivation, or even worse I think – lacking the inspiration to run. I now know what was missing – hills and trees and grass and mud and all those other good things that don’t come with running on tarmac. Time to change me thinks!

Anyway, we loved Bude and I especially liked this tidal swimming pool, though I didn’t jump in.

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The following morning we headed off south-west making our first stop at Boscastle, a village I stayed in last year. It is a lovely little fishing village that was almost destroyed by flooding in 2004 and has been mostly completely renovated. We were early enough we missed the worst of the summer holiday crowds.

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Second off was Tintagel – famous for its ruined castle that was supposedly the home of King Arthur. We didn’t go into the ruins, there were quite large queues to get in, but did walk up and around it.

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In one direction there were clouds, in the other blue sky ! Tintagel Castle is just a ruin on this rocky outcrop.

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There is a rather out of place and fairly ugly Georgian (Ithink?) hotel on the other side of the valley.

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After a very nice, locally made ice cream we set off for our final journey to the hotel that El had booked for us in Mawgan Porth, The Scarlet Hotel, a new eco-hotel on the cliffs above the beach – it was absolutely lovely and even better it had a no children policy !

Once unpacked we went for a walk along coast path along the cliff tops in quite a strong breeze. El, Sorry about the photo, just showing how windy it was, honest!

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After the walk in the afternoon we sat on our deck and drank a bottle of wine my sister and brother-in-law bought me a while ago, a bottle of Wither Hills Marlborough Pinot Noir – it was superb – thanks ! This was followed by a wonderful meal in the hotel and for a change we chose wines that were recommended for each of the food selections and they too were delicious. I did wear shoes by the way…

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The following day we took a trip into Padstow as the weather was looking a bit rubbish, it seemed most other people had the same idea as though it was raining quite hard when we arrived the village was packed, though the sun soon popped out and it was another lovely day. I didn’t really enjoy Padstow, it was very commercialised, full of shops selling clothes and stuff that was unnecessary to a small fishing village. Oh, well – most others seemed to like it. We did wander up this street for lunch at this pub, but it was closed.

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We went back to the hotel and I finally had to succumb to my needs and chucked on a pair of board shorts some old road shoes and took off for a half an hour run along the bit coast path that we walked the day before. I really enjoyed just getting out and plodding up hills and down rocky shale paths, it felt good to really suck down some fresh sea air!

In the afternoon El had booked some spa treatments for both us, and I will say the massage was welcome !

We went for a walk along the beach in the early afternoon, watching the heavy clouds come in over the sea, waiting for it to rain.

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The hotel is the building centre right with the curved roof.

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But the clouds soon blew clear so we ordered a light meal and a bottle of wine and sat out on the cliff side on some big cushions and enjoyed the last of the evening light.

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The following morning sadly we had to check out and head home. The weather was again a bit dubious and it rained a bit on the way. We drove the long way as I wanted to go through Dartmoor, which was all a bit of let down as we stuck to the main highway and we didn’t see too much moor land, then again we didn’t see too much of anything for a while…

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And a few hours later, that was that. We were back in London, our short and lovely holiday over. We had a great time away, everything was superb and El only swore and grabbed hold of things twice in all my driving…

I love it when I find some Phlegm!

Sunday 02 June 2013

It was another gorgeous English summer day so after breakfast we decided to walk along the Southbank, cross the Thames and visit Temple. Temple is an old part of London on the north bank of the Thames, and is one of the legal centres for the city. It is always busy during the day so I was keen to visit at the weekend and have a look around.

At the weekend, especially in summer, the Southbank is very busy, the council provide a lot of activities during the summer period – entertainers, art and a small beach full of sand to relax and play on. So, pretty much a time to avoid it really! But mornings are never too hectic and even at 10:00 there were not a lot of people around as we walked down from London Bridge. Blackfriars Bridge.

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While I was running on Thursday I had spotted a new work by Belgian artist ROA on the wall of the Southbank Centre. I was really pleased to see this as the building is notoriously ugly and is screaming for something to be painted on it, and this year seems to be the year ! This year they are celebrating “Neighbourhood” on the Southbank so there are gardens set up and a bit of art has made an appearance, the first thing we saw was this mural which looks very new.

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Just around the corner was this more alive installation of wheelbarrows filled with vegetable and herbs, very cool.

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I found the ROA piece high up on a wall.

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And WAHOO – just below it was a new piece by my favourite artist Phlegm! Very unexpected and very exciting too.

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Round the corner we found a pop-up cafe and museum with a Beano theme. I used to love the Beano comic when I was child and had to have a photo as Denis the Menace.

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We crossed over the Thames and found ourselves outside Somerset House, which had an exhibition on by the late New York fashion photographer Erwin Blumenfeld. The exhibition space in the East Wing of Somerset House is really good and a great place to see photography. Blumenfeld shot a lot of images for Vogue, Harpers, etc in the 40s and 50s and was quite innovative in his day.

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To our dismay we found that the gardens and area around Temple is closed at the weekend, which was a real shame as it was the main objective for the day. We sort of wandered aimlessly for a while, up past St Clements church – the official church of the RAF.

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We decided to walk right through the city to the East End and have lunch in Spitalfields, we passed Fleet St along the way. Fleet St was the traditional home of UK newspapers for centuries before technology and computerisation caught up with it and the old printing presses were shut down and new printing sites were set up further east in Wapping. It was a hugely contentious time, with a number of violent demonstrations.

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We had a nice lunch in a Vietnamese place in Spitalfields and then carried on wandering around for a little bit longer, my feet were starting to ache after a couple of three or four hour days of walking in flat soled shoes. This guy was beatboxing in Brick Lane and was phenomenal, not usually my cup of tea, but there are exceptions to most rules and he was definitely one of those.

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I was trying to not look for street art, but when you are up in the east end, it just kind of jumps out at you ! I really liked this new work by Chinese artist Dal-East.

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And this older piece by Broken Fingaz that I have not seen before, both in Pedley St, just off Brick Lane.

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We concluded our walk by strolling back to Liverpool St where El got a train back to Walthamstow and I got a bus back to London Bridge. It was a really good weekend, finished with home-made pizza while watching a pretty dreadful England draw with Brazil in a football friendly. I still love the view from my balcony 🙂

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I know how those heads feel !

Saturday 01 June 2013

Well it’s June the first – official first day of the English summer, and for a change the weather took notice and we had an even better day than yesterday, which was not too bad at all.

Last night El and I met some of her friends in one of the pubs near where she lives in Walthamstow, east London for a drink or two and I was feeling the effects of too many glasses of rose when I finally woke from a bad sleep. Today was not a day for lingering as we were off to Oxford to visit El’s oldest son and to have a quick look around the city.

We caught the train from Paddington Station, and I really should have taken a photo there as it is a pretty cool place, but I was desperately in need of caffeine and had to go find coffee before we boarded the train. The train was packed – not in a Sri Lankan way of course, no-one had legs hanging out of open doors and I am sure there was no-one on the roof either, just packed in an orderly English way! The first sunny weekend in a while meant a lot of people were heading out of the city for the day or weekend.

Oxford was no different to the train and the high street was very full.

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We wandered down through the high street and into some of the old part of Oxford town where all the colleges are. The old part is lovely – ancient colleges and university buildings form the centre of the old part and it is nice place to stroll, albeit rather crowded….

There a number of very famous colleges – such as Jesus, Balliol and Christchurch, some are open to the public and some are not. All the colleges I could see seem to surround greens and I popped into one that we were allowed into, though stupidly I did not write its name down.

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El’s son is studying at Brasenose College, which has been in the centre of Oxford since the early 16th century. The main buildings are from the 17th and 18th century. The public are not allowed in, but as we were meeting El’s son there we were allowed a brief tour of the place, beautiful ! Not allowed on the grass though 🙂

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We visited the quad of the famous Bodelian Library, which I also really liked.

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It was then time to go and hunt down some food and a cool drink, we walked past the not so famous “bridge of sighs” in Oxford.

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Before heading to the Turf Tavern for a ginger beer…

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Our next mission was to visit the Pitt River museum, which I think is the coolest museum I have been too. The main floor is packed with interesting things to see, including shrunken heads – which is why we went. The main focus of the museum seems to be anthropological and there was some quite interesting NZ artefacts there as well, somewhere I would highly recommend visiting if you had a couple of days in Oxford.

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We had lunch in a kebab shop and then farewelled El’s son and then El and I went for a walk around the botanical gardens – and a lie down on the grass in the sun.

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It was soon time to head back to London, I had only seen a tiny fraction of Oxford and I am definitely going to head back.

Shakespeare country

Sunday 24 February 2013 – Stratford-upon-Avon

I am blaming the bard for causing an almost complete mental block and now I am stuck on how to go about starting this post. If I only I had a small jot of his ability to string phrases together it would all be so much easier.

In true tragic-comedic fashion, now that I am committed to leaving London in less than two weeks time I have met a woman I like and naturally she is unable to travel in the immediate future. We have been hanging out a bit over the past few weeks and have had some good times. For reasons I will not go into I have agreed to not post a picture of El, but she has an impeccable taste in music, likes to read books, has a wicked sense of humour and I think she is very nice.

Anyway, we decided to do something different and went to Stratford upon Avon for the weekend, the birth and burial place of the bard himself – William Shakespeare. I am reading the fabulous Bill Bryson book on Shakespeare and it really highlights how few actual facts there are about old Bill, his name has been recorded as – Shakspeare, Shagsper, Shackspere and another twenty plus variations – a number of those variations were in his own signature.

We caught the train up from Marylebone Station in London on a bitterly cold Friday evening and arrived in our hotel in time for a late dinner in a bar packed with middle aged men in tuxedos – I felt a wee bit out of place in my jeans and boots – Stratford is not London!

On Saturday we took a walk around town, it was quite cold outside so numerous visits to historical houses were made. If you have lived in England over a winter you will know all about the bitter wind that howls down from the Siberian Steppes, it does not bring rain or snow but it cuts through as many layers of clothing as you can possibly wear and even my ‘windproof’ leather gloves were no match. Having said that, there was a constant very light fall of massive snow flakes all day. I was possibly the only person praying for a massive snow fall…

Stratford itself was sort of disappointing, due to my own ignorance I was expecting a cute wee village rather than a proper ‘town’ so the lovely old buildings were scattered and a bit incoherent. Not that there were not beautiful in their own right, just in between were the normal English high street chain store blights like Starbucks, Currys and the soon to be gone HMV. I imagine in not such a long time we will all be looking back at high street shopping as quaint and old fashioned.

First stop was a quick look at the Royal Shakespeare Company theatre on the far side of the River Avon. It was great to see a wee bit of Olympic legacy with the number of keen rowers out on a cold morning.

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We were looking for breakfast and coffee and were momentarily tempted by three inches of pure dairy fat in the middle of this scone. Jam and cream scones as part of an “English cream tea” are very common, but I have never seen this much cream – ever. I was not tempted through the shop door (OK I was, but I did not dare!)

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There are very few real facts about Shakespeare and his life, no paintings of him were made during his life time and no copies of any of his work exists in his own hand writing, most of what we know comes from other accounts of his life. Due to reasonably good record keeping in the UK from a very early time we do know where (not exactly when) he was born, got married, had children and died. Our first stop post breakfast was the house where he was born and lived when he was a child.

It is a museum now and frankly a wee bit odd. I guess the flow of the museum is really designed to cater for the masses of visitors that would come through on an English summer day. As you can see he was not born into poverty, though his family were hardly rich, just well off…

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It was a wee walk through town to our next stop.

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I really liked these old alms houses from the mid sixteenth century, partially renovated in the 1980’s and now lived in, the look lovely. What really impressed me with this street and outside our next stop at Halls Croft was the fact there was no parking out the front – finally an opportunity to see these wonderful buildings without cars and vans parked in front. Well done Stratford !

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Halls Croft is the house where Shakespeare daughter lived once she was married, it is quite ramshackle and I loved in a partially renovated way and I loved it, especially how the floor boards squeaked so loudly as we walked around.

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I loved this little croft house nearby, and really regret not getting some close ups of the wood of the door.

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England’s most visited parish church, Holy Trinity is the burial place of Shakespeare and his family. It was an interesting visit, I am used to visiting the big old cathedrals but this is a lovely old building with some very nice stained glass windows as well as the Shakespeare burial site.

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From the church we completed the loop walking back along the side of the Avon and past the Royal Shakespeare Co theatre.

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The building did not impress me at all from the outside, however we went to see a play in the evening and the inside is totally different to the out. The theatre is lovely, a horse shoe shape with steep galleries around the stage. We saw “The winters tale” it was my first live Shakespeare, and the first theatre I have been to in decades. I was very unsure on whether I would enjoy it or not and at three hours long it could have been a long and uncomfortable evening ! However, I surprised myself by really enjoying it, not that I understood half of what was being said. The cast was excellent and really allowed the story to work without needing to understand all the dialogue.

It was a good night that followed a really nice day. Though I slightly criticised the town at the start of this post, it was a lovely place to wander through, with some great things to see. Winter is a great time of year to visit !

The view from the hill.

Thursday 17 January 2013, Primrose Hill

I am loving this winter weather ! These cold yet dry days are perfect for roaming London, especially as there seems to be fewer people about. I had heard that Primrose Hill had good views over London and I am pretty sure I have never been there before so today seemed like the perfect day for another walk.

I caught the tube to Marble Arch and then walked up Baker St as I wanted to at least pass the Sherlock Holmes Museum. I did think about visiting but a large group of (I am assuming) Chinese had just gone in and I knew it would quite crowded in the small space. I may go back as I have long been fascinated by the famous detective.

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It is a short hop from the museum to Regents Park and I am not sure if I have actually been there either, I would like to think I have visited in the past, but have no recollection at all. The park had very few visitors which was perfect and I was really surprised at how frozen the lake was. I was not tempted to walk on it myself of course, but the gulls were definitely walking on water.

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I then skirted the rest of the park and followed Regents Canal around to the bottom of Primrose Hill, the canal is tidier here than in Hackney and while there is a small amount of graf on some of the walls there is no street art to look at. Different suburbs with different priorities !

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I wandered up Primrose hill for the famous view, and was not overly impressed really, it is more of a lump than a hill, even by Auckland standards – and Auckland’s hills are often mocked by those from other New Zealand cities for being merely large humps. It was nice up there and is probably beautiful (and crowded) on a really clear day.

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The short and steeper section near the top seemed to be very popular with runners doing circuits, I watched them for a while, running ever slower laps up and down the triangular path. I really surprised myself by not being jealous. Normally when I see people run I immediately want to join them and capture that rush of endorphins I get when a hard run has been completed. For some reason I am just not into a running groove at the moment, even a week ago I was running happily – yet this week I have zero motivation. It is not a situation I am happy about either, but that is not making me want to run!

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Picking up the canal again I followed it down into Camden Town.

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I went for a brief back street walk looking for street art, and surprised myself by finding almost none, perhaps I should have done some research first, though I did like this old car.

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Not finding much else to see or somewhere that had the food I wanted to eat, nor the indoor space I wanted to eat it in, I went home again.

Happy to have seen more of this lovely city !

St Albans – A day trip

Monday 17 December 2012, St Albans, Hertfordshire, England.

Well, I know I sort of wrapped up most of December in one post earlier in the week and hinted that I had not actually done a heck of a lot since, but I have not been a complete bed potato – I have no couch, so no couch potatoing!

Jackie was one of the great people I met on the Cape Town to Livingstone leg of my recent Africa trip and lives not too far from London. We had arranged to meet in the historic town of St Albans for a walk around and lunch.

One of thing I hadn’t mentioned in my wrap up was I had a bad head cold for most of a week, and the start of it was this day ! I work up with a very sore throat and had to spend some of my dwindling funds on various medicines as the cold worked its way from being a sore throat, through a very runny nose and down to a horrible chest cough. One medicine does not conquer all anymore !

I got the direct train from St Pancras to St Albans, very fast and very smooth, and only twenty or so minutes. St Albans is twenty or so miles from London and, I have said this before, I cannot believe how much green space there is between the city and the surrounding towns, for such a crowded country it is incredibly rich in green space – long may it continue!

Jackie picked me up from the station and we drove into town and a bit closer to the cathedral, it is a lovely clear day but quite cool.

We had a brief walk around some of the older parts of town and stopped for a look at the old clock tower, built in the early 1400’s, I loved the side door : )

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Some of the houses are incredibly old, but still in use today, I have no idea of the history of this building but I really liked the way if kinda sags in the middle – I know how it feels,  it must be middle aged !

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We next had a look at the old great gateway of the long gone monastery, the gate was built in the 1360’s and has been used as a monastery, has housed the third oldest printing press, was a prison for three hundred years and has been part of a school since 1871. Amazing, I just so love these things.

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From there we walked up to the cathedral and spent a good thirty or so minutes looking around. The cathedral was started in 1077 (Man that is old !!!) and has been in constant use ever since, it is a stunning building with some very well preserved sections. One of the things I do love about some of these old buildings, especially the churches / temples/ mosques, is that they have never stopped being used for their original purpose and visitors are welcomed.

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The cathedral is huge, and standing in the oldest section and looking up the length I again marvelled at how places like this were built before the age of large cranes and other machinery.

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There was some good detail in the cathedral, including some old wall paintings that I liked as they had not been restored, though I guess they will have to be at some stage !

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I really liked this eighteen century poor box – that is of course, still in use.

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After the cathedral we took a walk around the outside, Jackie had recently done a guided night walk here and pointed out some of the haunted houses, like this one next to the graveyard….

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After a walk up to St Peters church at the other end of town we stopped in for a drink in a pub and then lunch at an Italian place before Jackie dropped me back off at the station and I returned home.

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It was a really good outing, nice to catch up with Jackie and see somewhere new.

December, well most of it anyway.

27 December 2012 – Kensington, London, England

I have not achieved a lot or taken too many photographs since I arrived in England so I am just going to summarise the whole last three and a bit weeks in one, probably too long, post.

One year ago today I left New Zealand to start my travels, I cannot believe a year has gone so quickly – or that I lasted so long, largely outside my comfort zone. I remember telling people I would blog my travels, but to be perfectly honest I never actually expected to be writing, almost daily, twelve months later.

Until I get back onto the road again, my posting will definitely become more sporadic, unless I do or see something worth recording. I have now accepted that if there is nothing to say then I may as well not say it.

Right where was I…. Oh yep, back at the start of the month.

I had an opportunity to stay in Africa for a bit longer but I wanted to come back to England to see my daughter before she and her boyfriend went to India for three months, just in case I decided to go back to New Zealand while they away and I missed her. They left England on the sixth so I had arranged to meet them in Swindon on the fifth. I was up early on the day and looked out the window and there was snow on the ground – not a lot, but definitely snow, I was very excited !

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Though less so when I got to Dartford train station and had to wait for a train : )

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The trip to Swindon went without a hitch and I met Mel and Dickie at the station. We had lunch in a pub and then went and saw Skyfall, the new James Bond movie, which we all really enjoyed. After the movie Dickie went to a family dinner and Mel and I went to a couple of pubs and had a drink or three and some more food. It was very very nice to see her again and I am so glad I came back in time to catch them before they left. Stupidly I lugged my camera around, but did not take any photos.

The following day I met up with my friends Phil and Kevin. I am moving into Phils room in his flat in Kensington while they are in Sri Lanka until the end of January – taking a long break away from the cold – I don’t blame them. We went for a full day breakfast lunch, I soooooo miss a proper greasy spoon full English, I even ate the black pudding- which was a first!

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The next day I moved into the flat. I have a great large room, with a good working desk, as it is a basement flat I have a garden outside my window which is lovely. I also have a decent spec laptop with a keyboard I can type on, nice to not be using my little travel netbook, though it has been a faithful and fabulous travel companion, plus it had Lightroom on it, and it looks like I was editing photos from the Mono gig !

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Location wise, it is perfect – two hundred metres from Shepherds Bush tube station and an hour stroll into Trafalgar Square. Conveniently it is also close to some friends of mine as well.
I worked out a great little run up Kensington High Street, through Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park and back down through Notting Hill. Such famous places ! I am feeling incredibly unfit at the moment, the food, drink and sitting in a truck round Africa has certainly let me get a bit soft round the middle and the runs have been a real struggle. I can barely do an hour, and to think three months ago I did fifty five kilometres…

I have taken a few trips around London, I caught the train up to Camden markets as I needed to get a couple of bits of clothing, but nothing appealed to me there and I left a bit disappointed – mainly in myself as I suck at shopping. I loved the brothel creepers but would never where them. I ended up in the mall near where I live…

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But mainly I walk as much as I can, London is easy to walk around and I need the exercise and want to spend as little as I can. The first week was bitterly cold and a walk up through the royal parks was beautiful but frosty !

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Visited Wellington and his boots.

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I wandered up past Buckingham Palace – that place is huge…

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Along Whitehall

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Past the Institute of Contemporary Arts (it was closed).

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And into the National Portrait Gallery, where I visited a really good photography exhibition. I am not normally a fan of portraits, but some of these were excellent. The gallery is just off Trafalgar Square. There are plinths with statues on each of the four corners of the square, the fourth plinth has an ever changing piece on it – and I really liked it !

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I have also finally managed to drag myself into New Zealand House to get a certified copy of my passport so I can send all the forms off to NZ to get a replacement to the drivers licence I lost in Laos way back in May! NZ house is possibly the ugliest building in historic central London.

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I also visited Piccadilly circus while I was there.

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I quite often walk up to High St. Kensington, there is an organic coffee shop that I quite like there – and one day I was sitting at a table next to Jimmy Page, the Led Zeppelin guitarist. I should have said hello! I also love the old buildings around Kensington – as well as the rest of London of course.

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I love that Denton have been making hats since 1703 !!!

I have also visited the Natural History Museum which was holding an exhibition of the Wildlife Photographer of the year winners works. WOW !! I really did feel inadequate when I saw the work on display. A lot of the pictures were taken on Canon 5d MK2s so maybe it is simple as an upgrade from my MK1 – I wish!
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There was no photography allowed of course, which was cool, but you are allowed to take photos in the rest of the museum. I didn’t really enjoy it that much, lots of dead versions of things I had recently seen running around in the wild, so it was all a bit sterile. I did like the Dodo…

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And dead things in jars.

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And it was good to see an original print of Charles Darwins “The origin of Species”, and of course there was a statue of the great man himself.

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I went to the dinosaur exhibit but it was packed of children and adults wielding prams as dangerous weapons so I got frustrated and left!

I guess time passes this guy quite slowly.

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On the walk back home I passed the Royal Albert Hall.

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And I liked this house with its old and new cars.

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There are so many contrasts around here, old and new, rich and not so rich, English and foreign all mixed up in a big mess that seems to work just fine. I do love it here. When I came to England I really wanted to avoid getting stuck in London again, and damn it I think I will be, I have stopped looking for jobs outside already. This is such a magnetic city.

I was lucky to have some friends from New Zealand here playing tourist for a few days, great to see old friends after time on the road and David is one of my oldest. We went to see Madness at the 02 Arena. It was huge ! I go to lots of gigs but always in small venues, I think this was the biggest place I have been to since I saw U2 at Wembley stadium in 1986 !

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I also haven’t seen Madness since they came to NZ in the very early 1980’s so it was a lot of fun, and they really did put on a good show, marred by appalling sound where we were sitting right up the back.

Apart from seeing Mono – which I will write about separately, I have not done a lot else with my camera. The last couple of weeks have seen leaden grey skies with showers and rain so do not venture to far. I have been trying to get into some sort of working routine with getting up early and sitting at the desk working on the computer, it hasn’t always been successful of course. But it does save me money.

I have applied for seven jobs and not heard a thing from any of the recruiters, it was expected but still disappointing. I am yet to be disheartened though, I will save that for mid-January ! there is not a lot happening on the job front now until after the new year when I will hit it with renewed vigour. I have given myself until I move out of here to find a job and will then re-assess the situation then.

I was going to spend Christmas with family up in Brentwood in Essex, not too far away, but too far when there is no public transport, which is the case on Christmas Day. I was very fortunate to get invited to share Christmas with Pip and Lyall and some other Christmas “orphans” at Pip’s sister place in Chiswick. I used to work with Pip a few years ago and they live about a fifteen minute walk from me. It was a great Christmas and I naturally ate way too much food and enjoyed the red wine a lot as well.

And that pretty much wraps up the last few weeks, and almost 2012 as well.

A wee stroll in the sun – in London !

Day 262, Saturday 22 September 2012 – London

A much better sleep was had last night and I took the opportunity to doze for a little bit before having breakie in bed and a session on Skype with a friend back in NZ.

It is a lovely day today and with rain forecasted for the rest of the week ahead I took the opportunity to head out for the day with the intention to see some of London’s parks and meet Elias, an old friend from my Richmond days in the mid-eighties.

I walked down to Dartford town centre, past the local – I will try it out before I leave 🙂

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And then strolled through the market, it was busy but uninspiring – maybe an unfair call on Dartford market as markets are not my thing anymore – I have seen too many! The highlight, which I did not take a photograph of, was a stall blasting out and selling reggae CD’s, in a seemingly white middle aged suburb it was rather incongruous – good luck to them!

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I took the train into London, I was going to pick up a tube to Tottenham Court Rd and check out some of the camera shops for some pricing for future reference. However, the line was closed from Charing Cross so I alighted there and went straight to Trafalgar Square – which was on the plan for the day anyway.

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What wasn’t on the plan was the National Gallery – it should have been ! I really enjoyed my time walking though the gallery – sadly no photos allowed, but I did sneak a quickie of Leonardo De Vinci’s “The virgin and child with St Anne and St John the Baptist” from 1500.

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Wow ! I have never been a De Vinci as an “artist” fan (ignorance ), much preferring art from the turn of the 20th century. However this drawing blew me away, the detail was stunning and I just loved it. Definitely my favourite piece from the gallery; a massive call given some of the works there. Another big call is – I enjoyed this more than the Louvre, it is smaller and simpler, but it does have a different focus so unfair to compare I guess.

What did I like? Seurat’s “Bathers at Asniers” – I love that painting, awesome to see it in the flesh. It was also great to see some nice Signac, Pissaro and Monet. My favourite Manet – “Execution of Maximilian” was here along with Renoirs “Umbrellas”. I am not a huge Renoir fan, but really like Umbrellas’. It is the same with Van Gogh, I have never been overly excited by his art, I do like “Van Gogh’s Chair” and Flowers is here as well, though that painting is all a bit ho hum IMHO.

I had an unexpected good time at the gallery – and it was a 4 pound donation, rather than a massive entry fee- good on you London!

This chewed up a chunk of my wandering around time, so I stopped for a sandwich and coffee in the sun on Trafalgar Square than walked through Admiralty Arch.

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Past the stature of James Cook.

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Round to the back of Horseguards Parade.

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Past Downing Street.

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And on to Waterloo station to meet my old friend Elias. It was great to catch up with him, haven’t seen him since 1987 when I left England. We walked along the South Bank of the Thames for a couple of hours and chatted about our lives in the past 25 years. We headed over to Embankment and had a drink before wandering back to Waterloo so Elias could make his next appointment. I strolled back over the Thames.

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And got the train back to Dartford.

It was a really good day, the gallery was fabulous, the walk refreshing and enjoyable and it was great to catch up with Elias, we will meet again when I return from Africa for sure.

 

 

 

Go ! 50 for 50

Days 255/256, Saturday/Sunday 15/16 September 2012, Axmouth and Bristol

It has finally arrived, the day I been both excited about and dreading in equal measures. It is 50for50 day, the day I plan to run 55.6km of the South West Coast Path from Budleigh-Salterton (B-S) in east Devon to West Bay in Dorset. This is the furthest I have ever run by a significant margin, though I will say up front there will be some walking!

As forecasted the weather was good, clear skies and not too hot throughout the day, though it definitely did get warm in the middle of the afternoon – as you will see in some of the photos.

It may surprise those who have witnessed me hoover down a massive cooked breakfast that I normally only have a couple of slices of toast in the mornings, even on run days, and today was no exception. Though I regretted this later in the day as I started running out of steam and didn’t feel like eating anything.

Garry has kindly offered to run with me, making sure I do not get lost and keeping me company on the way. I met Garry when he ran a few sections of Tom and Mal’s epic run of the whole South West Coast Path back in June. He is running mad, knows this section of the coast extremely well and is a top bloke. It was great to have him on the trail with me. Garry arrived at 7:00 and we bundled all our gear and food into Tom’s car, added Tom’s four year old son Finlay and set off for the thirty minute drive to B-S and the start line.

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Ah, I love running…

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Garry and I set off at 7:53 on the first leg, B-S to Sidmouth with the number one aim of finding some where to stop for a wee once we were clear of the car park.! The run to Sidmouth is 11.4 k and one I had done with Mal – though at least today we were not running in fog bound drizzle. It was a good section to start on as there are less of the steep ascents and descents that will feature later in the day -it certainly was not flat though. There was a 10km race here later on and the preparation work was under way as well left.

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Fin had some fun too !

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Taking a photo

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This photo!

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The day warmed quickly so the jackets were not on for long!

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I wish, it was still a long way to Beer and even further to beer.

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It took us 1;17 to get to Sidmouth, which I was very happy with and I was feeling pretty good, though had gone the usual cycle of niggles in ankles, knees and hips. Fortunately most of those went away as normal after forty or so minutes of warming up, however my right knee bugged me for most of the day – especially climbing some of the innumerable steps. This is one of the few times I was ahead of Garry.

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When I took my Camelbak off I noticed my jacket was missing from the back, crap ! I was very appreciative of Garry who volunteered to go back and see if he could find it. I reckon he really thought he had just been handed a good excuse to up the pace and get a decent run in, but luckily for me and sadly for him the jacket was not that far away ! After a ten minute stop to fuel and load up on more water we were off through Sidmouth

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Then into one of the more up and down sections of coast to Berry Barton, none of the climbs were massive, but there was a few of them and they were steep, not allowing a lot of easy running to happen. I wasn’t drinking enough on this leg given that it was quite warm now and this would make things a little unpleasant further into the day.

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We had another 10 minute stop on the hill tops and were off to Seaton. This was another hilly section of coast and I started to develop a small blister one of my toes, fortunately and band aid at Seaton was all it took to fix. This leg had us up “The stairway to Heaven” (not) steps

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And though the historic coastal town of Beer – had to take the photo of course.

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From Beer we had to take a small detour on the road as the cliff had fallen away and the path section was closed. The run along Seaton waterfront was nice though I was looking forward to a sit down and a snack. We arrived at the rest stop after just over four hours on the road. A little bit behind schedule but I was still feeling OK.

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The “Under cliff” leg to Lyme Regis was tough, not so much of the heavy climbing, but a long section of small pinches on some lovely single track which I would normally have enjoyed. There was not much to see as we were enclosed for most of the section and I think this impacted on my moral a bit as i could not see progress. I really struggled through here, had a bad headache and was quite nauseous – I think this was dehydration related, and my left hip started seizing up as well. We stopped for a break at the approximate half way and I popped a couple of pain killers. I was not looking my finest !

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Through here I moved into the longest run ever territory, going past 5:01 which was my previous longest from the Kauri Classic event last October. I was pretty low for a while and was glad for Garrys company and the occasional gee up on pace. Dropping down into Lyme was a relief.

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I had a few slugs of ginger beer and a small bag of chips (crisps) and almost immediately started feeling better. The first section of the approx 12k to Seatown was along the waterfront and then rock hopping across the beach and it was nice to ease into a section that includes the highest point on the coast, the 191 metre Golden Cap. I was surprised at how many people were at Lyme, and a wee bit frustrated at the foot traffic !

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There was a couple of “lumps” to climb before Golden Cap.

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By the time we got there I was feeling it, I was Ok walking up the grass sections, but the steps at the top were hard work. In fact I had been struggling with the steps for a while, they are very uneven and it was hard to maintain a rhythm going up them, the grass was so much easier, head down, “one foot in front of the other” mantra going in my head and the climbs were “easy”!

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The run down the other side of Golden Cap saw into the small hamlet of Seatown – and according to my internet research this was 50km, but not the end, I wanted to nudge a bit further into West Bay to make doubly sure I had covered a full 50k. We arrived in seatown after just over eight and half hours on the road and I was feeling a lot better. Tired but good.

Naturally the last leg, about 5k to West Bay, started with a climb!

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And of course there was another one in it ! but I was still running the flats and descents and Garry knew of a couple of sections of trail that by-passed the steeper uphill and downhill sections, with one of these being one my favourite sections on the pass, a nice long gradual downhill bit of single track – or maybe it was just close to the end ! About 500 metres from the finish I started getting a lot of pain in the tendons on the bag of my left knee, it only hurt on the downhill and I was glad when there was a final small climb just before the end !

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And then it was done !!!

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55.6km ! and I was still running, albeit slowly, at the end. It took me 9.5 hours which was more than I really really wanted but inside my 10 hour guesstimate. I was immensely happy to sit down, knowing I did not have to get up again -and even happier when Tom gave me a can of beer 🙂

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It was a great run and I am sure I could have done more if my knee was not tender, though that went away within an hour.

We drove back to Toms for a shower and a rest before Tom’s parents Shiela and Richard joined us for dinner. I spent a bit of time with Shiela during the coast path run as she was supporting Tom as I was supporting Mal, so it was really good to see them again. Dinner was great and I certainly enjoyed a couple of red wines in celebration.

Sunday morning was a slow start, I had slept much better than expected and apart from a bit of tightness going down the stairs I felt pretty good – remarkably so really. After breakfast Tom took me back into Seaton so I could get the bus to Exeter and then on to Bristol.

I really appreciated staying at Tom and Tash’s place, the big day Tom took out to support me on the run and having Garry along with me on the way. When I first decided to do this I was planning on just doing it solo, stopping at shops on the way for food and water – but I would not have made it. Goal achieved due to the fantastic help of friends in the global trail running community.

The buses to Bristol were a none event, at Exeter I had planned on going to Maccas for lunch but once I through my pack on when I got off the bus with seized up legs i could barely walk, I had coffee and chips in the bus station instead.

I walked to Mel’s place as I couldn’t find a cab, so was knackered when I got there and relieved to basically sit down and not move much for the rest of the day. Richard had made a great lunch and we all sat around eating and drinking tea/coffee and beer till the early evening when we sat around drank beer, ate pizza and watched The Hunger Games, an excellent post run day.

Mal – Thanks for the idea, it was a great one and I am so pleased I celebrated my 50th by doing a 50+km run. And secondly, I now know about bleeding hydration pack bladders….. I have used them for about 12 years and never knew to bleed them, next time !

Another big day tomorrow !