The walk this week has been difficult, first we have had to pick our day with the recent return of cold weather and then there was the distance. It is a beautiful 11-miles-long the River Thames. We started in confidence that we could complete the walk, simply because we had trained back in December. We can walk 3 times around Virginia Water Lake 3 times (13.5 miles) in just over 3 and half hours. So, we were not so worried about the distance in itself– it was more that this is really in the isolated country side and there are very few points where the walk alongside the river bank interacts with roads. Should anything happen - either way, we would have a distance to walk before getting help and then if it was serious how would we guide that help in.
Having already walked the route with my husband to do the risk assessment I knew it would be more problematic than Stage 1 where the route winds through the villages. Therefore, only the older and more physically fit joined this section of this walk. Anyone who had expressed an interest but did not go will have either a free pass on this section or can walk this section in the summer when the going will be much easier.
As always, we did have a Plan B, at about the half way mark there is a road, the only road identifiable on the Satnav, where we would meet the support vehicle. Here would be lunch and hot drinks. Anyone struggling could get a lift and if the weather turned we could all be picked up.
So, in glorious golden winter sunlight we set off in good time and high spirits. It had rained the previous night and the soil was water logged in places and with it being clay it stuck to our boots like glue and as a result we made the half way mark a little behind time but still confident we could finish.
The support car carried two huge flasks of hot chocolate, the lack of which was identified as a problem on Stage 1 of Walking the River Thames. It appears that having a coffee shop which serves hot chocolates (with proper milk and not vegan milk) is an essential to all Orchard Training school trips, a point I have duly noted.
Unfortunately, when one puts liquid in, at some point the need for a toilet becomes a necessary, the second issue identified on Stage 1. Although there are public toilets at both ends of the walk, none to be found between the start and the finishing points. Luckily, just after leaving the support vehicle the route took us through a wood, with sufficient bush coverage. All I shall say, on the matter, is that it was very cold around the nether regions.
Adjusting our expectations, on the time it would now take us to cover the final half, we set out again. The ground became really waterlogged and it became more difficult to walk at a pace. Then at a point about two miles from the end, we were faced with a quagmire of mud that held on to your boots. We were just problem solving how to navigate around this when the dad driving the support car, who had become worried by the failing light and our no show, walked over the brow of the hill with the tow rope. He had already walked back along the route to find us, seen the quagmire and had gone to fetch the tow rope to help us. What a welcome relief that was!
We made it back to the car park somewhat cold, wet and wearing a lot of mud just as the last sun light of the day fell behind the trees. We missed the signpost marker to show we made it to the end but by then we just wanted to get out of the wind.
Later, I heard from the dad that the conversation on the way home was not about how tough or how long the walking was, it was not about how tired they were nor worsening weather conditions - but about the dead swan’s carcase we found and the speculation on what had eaten it from the evidence we found. The need for a spotter’s guide for raptors so they could identify the ones they saw flying and how much they had enjoyed the different sounds the wind made through different trees, copes and woodlands and the rainbow we saw. The number of deer tracks and the different dog and possible fox prints. The fact that we passed no one the whole walk and we could not hear, a plane, train or car once we left the town. Finally, what fun it was to be rescued from the quagmire. We only went for a walk . . . and had an adventure.