This is the second part of my account of my solo trip of the Cotswold Way a couple of months ago. In the last article I discussed the patchwork quilt of events and ambitions that led to walking it. Well worth a read if you have nothing better to do with your day. In this instalment I will be talking about the preparation stage in the weeks and days (and hours) leading up to it.
Firstly though, I need to cover an important aspect of the walk. I mentioned at the end of the last article about how I was going to let it change me, and how I almost felt it was going to be a personal pilgrimage in a way, like the Camino (which has been on my mind for four years – nearly the same time as the Cotswold Way). It’s an often overused cliché, usually found in tourist tat shops on fridge magnets, but for me the whole thing was about the journey, not the destination. I wasn’t hoping to find God or anything like that, I was just hoping to find something either within me or along the way in the experiences I would go through. I had also decided the smartphone, which I’m convinced is making me more stupid, was to remain switched off in my bag, only to be used in the evenings for my I’m-not-dead call home.
I thought I would replace the habitual phone-checking during the day by taking a book of poetry with me in the hope of learning some new poems and becoming more cultured. Laughable if you know me. My idea of culture is as bad as Del Boy’s French. There are many villages around where I live where the village telephone boxes have been converted into second-hand book libraries. In the two weeks leading up to the off, I visited a few but didn’t find much beyond Mills and Boon and Jeffrey Archer. Luckily, we also have a plethora of charity shops, one of which has a huge basement full of books and vinyl and I emerged with a book of the collected works of John Masefield. Ten years ago in a converted headmaster’s house somewhere in Cheshire, I found a Masefield book and loved it. Luckily, huge excerpts of this same work were in my new-found book.
Another masterstroke was to take my small wind-up radio. It proved to be great company at night and prevented the temptation to peek at the phone. As it transpired, the radio was an inspired choice, especially after the first and second days. I suppose it’s age or maybe that I was looking for company, but I chose radio stations with no music, just chatter. Make of that what you will.
Planning the walk was really enjoyable. I always revel in the planning of things, taking bits apart and putting them all back together again, and examining scenarios and what-ifs. When I was planning the Cotswold Way ultra run in 2019, I bought a really good guide book that covered the route from both directions and, to my map-loving delight, a separate booklet containing the complete route in Ordnance Survey 1:25000 scale. Be still, my weird, cartographic-obsessed, slightly black heart. I used this book along with a GPS route-planning app to split the 102 miles into four days, each finishing at reasonable points where I would be able to feasibly set up my wild camp. This equated to roughly a marathon every day. Well, two were slightly less, two were more. It became apparent that the early stages were the toughest as they contained the most elevation. From 50-odd miles in, it got a little friendlier.
In terms of kit, I had to carry everything I needed, but only the essentials. Three days before I left, I got all that i needed out and it covered the kitchen table and the chairs as well as a good chunk of the floor. It all had to fit in my 66-litre backpack. It didn’t. So I had to drop some bits. It still didn’t. So I had to get ruthless. I had planned to take my digital SLR camera so I could take photos without using my phone. In the interests of weight and space, out it went. It was for the best though, as walking in excess of 25 miles a day, there was an aspect of speed at play, so stopping every few minutes to take photos as well as carrying the bloody thing around my neck, would have made each day seem like forever. Also by the wayside fell some campsite luxuries like a pillow, flip flops, and an inflatable sleeping mat. It just meant I would have to improvise for the pillow and make sure I set myself up.on soft grass. In terms of shelter, I opted to take my basha (tarp) and a sleeping bag, with ground sheet. My one man tent would have been light enough, but would have taken up lots of room in the backpack. Another casualty in the not-so-ruthless first stage of cutting kit back was the poles that I use to support the basha. I would just have to lassoo it between two trees and go with it.
I aimed to carry all of my food for the four days, and as much water as I could at any one time. Food was mainly boil in the bag meals so I could use the same water multiple times in case finding it became difficult. As this was the end of June, I was sure to get some hot days so would need to prioritise hydration. As it worked out, cemeteries became my best friend for their water taps.
Footwear-wise, I went with my lightweight leather (but not waterproof) military boots. I don’t have walking boots any more and find these more than suitable. My other military boots are Gore-tex but are heavy, and cumbersome after a while. I had two sets of clothes and planned to operate a dry kit-wet kit routine of it poured it down, as well as taking spares. The spares took up too much room, so had to go, leaving me with just one spare of everything. I contemplated dropping this, but it wouldn’t have been worth the gamble – I had to change clothes after day two. Some things, I have learned, are essential.
All in, the bag weighed in the low twenties (kgs), and in theory, it would get lighter and lighter as the days went by.
So there it was. All packed and ready to roll. Would the six Ps come back and haunt me? PPP=PPP. Piss Poor Preparation = Piss Poor Performance. I sincerely hoped not.