2021 arrived and I decided to take on a huge challenge. Walk from Lands End to John O’Groats (LEJOG). It’s 1083 miles using an app, and I want to do it by mid-May when Mental Health Awareness Week arrives. I’m also raising funds for Restore, a mental health charity in Oxford. Along the way, I want to discover about the places I ‘visit’ and share some mental health stories with you too. I hope you enjoy it.

CAN YOU HELP?
As I’m wanting to get real stories about the places I am visiting, especially if they promote mental health and wellbeing, I’d love to hear from you if you know the area or have visited the area and benefited from it.
PLEASE GET IN TOUCH.

185.6 miles

898.2 miles

1 – WHY WALK THE UK?
About Restore

WEEK 4

DAY 22
(22nd Jan 2021)

Oh what a beautiful morning! We have clear blue skies. I’ve fulfilled my morning duty of a Facebook LIVE for work. There’s a challenge at the moment for all Relax Kids Coaches to present the same tips and tricks each day for 20 days (different content each day but we present the same one each day if that makes sense). It’s good fun and I’m getting confident at them but as I said yesterday, it’s indoors so I’m OK.

The weather in Kenton is the same supposedly and I like that. It’s good when the weather matches as you can really feel as though you are there. Doesn’t sun really cheer a day up? If nothing else, the sun is like a smiling friend, there to brighten the darker days that appear. It shines through often at the right moment I find. Morning exercise is done and having sorted out the diary for the day – more video editing for work and an interview for this blog this afternoon – I’m gearing up for a walk.

Lovely walk in the sunshine of just over 3.5 miles. That’s helped boost the mileage, and my energy. I had a lovely walk to start with but I have to say it’s getting harder, not because I can’t manage to walk the distance but because of the amount of people who won’t social distance. It’s starting to really spike the anxiety. I’m going to have to find a way to push through it. Some welcome relief came in the form of the Horsebox Coffee Company. I walked past them the other day and didn’t stop. Today I made a point to.

First of all, they have a cool logo. Secondly, they are very friendly. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly because it’s their trade, they do pretty fine hot chocolate and homemade cake. I had a great chat with the delightful Emily and she was really keen to see what I was doing for Restore (she’s a big fan), so she kindly gifted my refreshments. People are so kind. Shout out to them. Please support them.

As the sun shone down, I continue to head northwards past many fields once more and come across the RSPB Exminster and Powderham Marshes. Their website explains that they are still open and you can see a myriad of birds, from geese and warblers, lapwings to buntings, what a wonderful world it sounds. If you’re looking for something to do that’s bird related you can’t go far wrong with getting involved with The Big Garden Birdwatch either. I’ve had a love for birds for a while and I still remember the excellent course at the Oxfordshire Recovery College, part of Restore, which I attended a couple of years ago. It was all about getting out in nature and was a gentle introduction to ecotherapy.

I follow the route that runs alongside the train track and turn on to the A379 (another busy road) for the next leg of the journey and over Alphin Brook, a small stream of water that runs next to the River Exe, separated by a bank. It seems quite apt that I’m virtually walking here because I’ve just walked a similar type of place in Oxford called Mesopotamia. It was particularly busy today and one of the reasons I found it especially difficult. Before I get to much further on, I’m stopping for lunch

At my youth club’s Christmas Fair we won sausages. We actually found this more hilarious than it probably is, but the prize was for six packs from Heck. We’ve cracked open the Chicken Italia. To round it off, I’ve my homemade cake which I didn’t even nibble on before I got home. There’s a rarity!

The afternoon seemed to pass in a flash. I spoke to BBC Oxford who are interviewing me on Monday next week, I ended up filming and editing more content for this and for work, including an interview with Lesley from Restore, due up on Sunday, and before I knew it, dinner was on the table. It’s been a good week but I’m thoroughly exhausted tonight. With the usual few steps around the house and garden and a quick pop to the shop, I find myself in Clyst St Mary. I was hoping to be further on but I’m so tired that I can’t do any more miles. There wasn’t a great deal to look at other than a few shops, car dealerships, IKEA, that sort of thing up to this point. The name of this village comes is Celtic and means ‘clear stream’. I’m not sure how it’s got that name. Certainly the River Clyst doesn’t appear to be overly clear from the images online. The area the village is located on was home to a great battle in 1549. I’m hoping for a peaceful evening! The Eastcote Luxury Guest House looks to be my haven.

DAY 23
(23rd Jan 2021)

The sun is out again and today is quite exciting. This morning is another busy one and one in which I’ll get a few steps in but not many. Not opening myself up too much here so you’ll have to guess what the family doing but we’ll be doing it in a covid-safe way.

By the afternoon we’re home and after a spot of lunch, which was really enjoyable because I’ve not had fruit loaf for some time, I’m out walking again. Fruit loaf doesn’t sound like it should be a thing, but it really is. It’s one of those foods that I will gladly savour and enjoy every last morsel.

The walk today was around the back of the hospital site. It’s expanded a lot over the years and I had a strange thought whilst walking in the park yesterday – all the lovely noises of the wildlife and yet our doctors and nurses have the constant noises of beeping machines. Being at the back of the hospital today it felt much the same. Birds singing as the sun set, yet just metres away, people working flat out to save thousands of lives, all the while their mental health is taking probably the biggest knock out of anybody.

One place on my route today that I’ve never even heard of is Crealy Theme Park and Resort. It’s as it says and probably not somewhere I would go in all honesty. I’m not a rollercoaster person, but for the so inclined, it looks a good place. Of course, it’s closed at the moment but aside from the rides they have hot tub lodges, so perhaps I could be tempted.

Further along the road is Greendale Farm Shop. There’s something friendly and familiar about a farm shop that feels like home. Often selling those nick-nacks that appear in lovely houses in glossy magazines but which nobody really needs. If I’m ever on holiday and there’s one around, I do tend to pop in, not least because I am a massive fan of real apple juice. The sort that tastes as though somebody literally picked the apple and squashed it through the neck of the bottle.

This morning a statement popped up on one of my social media feeds. It said to fuel the positivity in your life. Learn to let go of the things that may be outside of your control. Focus on what you can control.

This reminds me of what Tina said in our chat the other week and is something I’ve tried to hold in mind today. Maybe it will serve you well as we continue over the next few days.

The road feels long here again but I pass by another RSPB site, this time Aylesbeare Common. It’s primarily heathland, and interesting to see that whilst there are a few familiar species from the last site, this one is noted for the Dartford warbler, a lovely looking and clakkity sounding Stonechat, and a stunning Yellowhammer, with it’s bright lemon coloured feathers. On their website it does say to be aware at this time of year that you could see Snipes, a long beaked bird, at the reserve. I’m glad I re-read it because I thought it said snipers. That being the case, I wouldn’t have stayed.

Newton Poppleford comes into sight. As we’re considering nature quite a bit in the blog, you may be pleased to know if you’re green fingered that the soil here is particularly good, so much so that in 1899, they won an award for a daffodil that was grown there. For those of a more board game ilk, many of the questions in Trivial Pursuit were written at a cottage in the village. All of the information I can find out about the place really do point to it being the sort of village you feel you could instantly fall in love with.

I’m heading towards Sidmouth and somewhere familiar to me due to a holiday many years ago but for now, I’m going to sleep in a field at the East Hill Pride Farm Shop.

In which I meet Lesley Dewhurst, CEO of Restore, Oxford (and look slightly paranoid!)

DAY 24
(24th Jan 2021)

We’ve woken to snow again, but this time not a sprinkling. There’s a good few inches of the white stuff. My plans for the day have changed. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, and that’s important to hold on to. Often we worry when our plans have to change but there can also be something fun about the idea of ‘going with the flow’.

As such it’s a lazy morning and I’m sat here watching an interesting programme (Weather Man Walking) about walking the coastline and the impact that litter is having on our oceans and beaches, amongst other things. It’s quite shocking and sad.

I do like the little statement that’s popped up on my social media this morning. It says to love yourself. ‘In order to conquer our fears, we must learn to stand up and face them head on…keep pushing forward…most importantly, keep loving yourself.’ Such an important message. Maybe if you’re reading this today and feeling a little low, you can make a list of all the things you are good at. I’ve done this a few times – it can be a real mood lifter.

After a bit of tidying around the house I head out to the post office and to collect a parcel from the Amazon dropbox. It’s not that cold and the snow is deceptive although it is a bit slippy underfoot. Put in some good mileage and saw some great snow figures (men, women, igloos). Brother bought me a very tasty chocolate and cranberry bar which made it also feel a bit Christmassy. The parks are busy with the joyous laughter of children. It’s almost like a gift to them having snow after such a difficult 2020.

The next place I visit is Sidmouth, but not completely. I skirt the top of Sidmouth, but for the purposes of the blog I’m actually going to divert (virtually) because I remember many year ago (I should think 15 ish) we had a family holiday here and I want to see if where we stayed still exists. It does. The website and logo seem to have changed and from what I can tell, it’s under new management, which isn’t surprising really.

Why we went here I’m not really sure. Sidmouth is quite out of the way of anything I seem to remember but it was a good holiday, as our holidays were – any event or occasion is only as good as you’re going to make it really, isn’t it? When we went we stayed quite near the clubhouse and I’m trying to see the building, but it’s tricky to find. There’s a few things I instantly remember about this holiday.

For one of the first times, I don’t think I followed in the family’s footsteps of writing a diary but filming it instead, primarily because I’d got a video camera so of course I was now Stephen Spielberg – although why I decided every morning to film the sunrise with a whispered David Attenborough style commentary, who knows? It’s given us many a laugh since because the washing line appears in it as well, with the joke now being ‘Good morning. It’s Day Five. Here’s how many pegs are on the washing line today.’ I also remember my keenness at cooking breakfast very early for everyone each morning, and their keenness to have a lie in which was impossible because the smoke alarm was directly above the cooker.

I digress. Next door to our lodge was The Donkey Sanctuary and we seemed to spend our week with them, not least because we loved them to pieces but because every morning we were woken by their braying. It beat a cockerel a suppose. We visited some beautiful gardens too high on the cliff edge – Connaught Gardens I now find online. I think I was too young to take note of the name back then.

Best we move on otherwise I’ll basically be telling you every detail of the holiday. Something really strange occurs with this app. It claims to take you off the beaten track at times to show you points of interest, hence why the route is longer. This does excite me, but let’s get something straight. Today it’s added about half a mile walking me around a caravan park. The reason? Because it can. It’s as though it’s taunting me saying ‘look who can’t go on holiday.’ Oh well, homeward bound then.

I follow the A3052 and could veer off towards Beer but I don’t. Yes it is a lovely place with a gorgeous little pebble beach but the route keeps me inland and if I keep diverting too much we’ll never get to Scotland. This evening has been tricky. The house needed a jolly good tidy and I’d got it in mind to do this, but I also need to finish editing my book, and sort my diary out for this next week. In the end it was a bit of a mish mash of jobs at a very slow pace. It’s no bad thing, especially if you know you have a busy or difficult week ahead. We shouldn’t ever push ourselves too much. Down days are good. Bedtime calls at the edge of Seaton.

DAY 25
(25th Jan 2021)
fbt

Woke up to a lovely sunny day again. Clear blue sky. It may be chilly but I adore days like this. We can wrap up against the cold and still enjoy nature, even if it is the garden. I’ve managed a mile already this morning, and having done a Facebook LIVE video for work, I’m now gearing up to be interviewed by BBC Radio Oxford at 11am. What a day and life! Never when I started this was I expecting this at all. It’s crazy and does sort of blow my mind that people are that interested in what I’m doing. Thank you.

And at 11.30am, I’m done. BBC Radio Oxford interview complete. I felt I rambled (in true sense) so if you listened, thank you. It was a great experience but did make me anxious and when I get anxious I feel tired so will have to have a bit of a rest before my walk today.

The walk today saw me not so much noticing nature as I should be. It’s my friend’s Birthday so I spent most of my time on the phone, putting the world to rights. Remember, connection with others is so important. We had such a laugh and our conversation ended up at nearly an hour, about the same amount of time I was out. I didn’t get to visit Seaton either, but that’s OK. I’ll hold on to the memories from our holiday. I don’t remember whether we went on Seaton beach when I was younger. Perhaps the fact I don’t recall this means we didn’t. I do remember the tram though. The electric tram transports you through three miles of the most gorgeous Axe Valley. I can still visualise in my mind the vast expanse of the River Axe and surrounding area which was so peaceful. A great place for bird watching too. I do like bird watching but only as a thing whilst strolling along or sitting in the garden. I’m not sure I could stand being in a bird hide all day. Does anyone with experience of this want to tell me what it’s like?

I’ve got myself a new toy which will hopefully make the out and about videos less wobbly. It was cheap, which probably accounts for the fact that upon testing it, things still shook. Oh well. My next stop is Lyme Regis. That might be a bit of a push for tonight. I’ve also realised that I’ve taken lots of photographs recently whilst I’ve been out and not uploaded up. I really should so that you can enjoy these places with me. It’s amazing what even looking at pictures of nature can do for you so I’m sort of letting the side down on that front.

This afternoon I had to meet clients (virtually – are we really getting used to this? – I’d love to meet people in person again) but this evening I was back to the decorating lark which back and forth added a few steps. There’s something of an early spring clean feel at the moment. Get rid of the old and unused and move on.

As I head to Lyme Regis, my next key location on the route, I spot an alpaca farm and stop by. This is a teaching site. Not only do they look after this odd looking creatures (I say that with affection), but they run courses, outside of covid times, all to do with parasites and the gut, with a fully equipped laboratory available. Isn’t it interesting what you find when you look slightly off the path you should be taking?

Arriving in Lyme Regis for bedtime, I have this feeling that I have been here before, but then I doubt myself. Maybe I haven’t. As I come over the brow of the hill though there’s a great view of the sea ahead between the rooftops as the sun set. This seaside town is often dubbed the ‘Pearl of Dorset’, which as the name suggests, I have now made it in to my third county on my journey. That seemed to have happened quickly but Devon is relatively narrow, certainly compared to Cornwall before it. Once again I’m going to divert a little in order that I can get right down to the seafront because, well, who doesn’t want to watch the sun sink on the horizon as the waves gently lap at the shore on a crisp winter evening?

DAY 26
(26th Jan 2021)

Bit overcast in Oxford this morning but in Lyme Regis they’re on rain watch. Morning exercise done and a few jobs under my belt, I’m off on my daily walk to help clock up the miles.

There’s a few webcams covering the Lyme Regis area and one in particular overlooks the wet and windy beach, a few dog walkers braving the blustery conditions. Lyme Regis is well known for its Cobb which is the large stone sea wall defence encompassing the harbour. Lyme Regis is also part of the Jurassic Coastline and is ideal for fossil hunting, although as with any beach, we must be mindful and careful not to take from these places else our coastline can be dramatically reshaped. I do seem to remember visiting here in real life (as opposed to the virtual one) but I believe I was quite a bit younger, but images online suggest that the Aquarium was one place we looked in. You can actually walk along the Cobb although that’s not for me. Sheer drop into the sea water? No thank you very much.

The area has had many films made there. Further along the beach are the Langmoor and Lister Gardens, an award-winning space of green nature overlooking the sea, merged with crazy golf and table tennis. One thing the town does seem to do well is provide plenty of car parking so visitors can actually stay. The amount of times you visit somewhere that you want to stop and you can’t because they have provided three spaces and two of those are reserved for staff.

As I’m on foot though, no need to worry. I can reach the Lyme Regis Museum on foot. It is closed due to Covid but were it not, the multi-colour bricked building, reminiscent of Oxford’s own Keble College colours, offers something for everyone, with notable interest for schools around the history and geology of the area. There is something to be said for these museums that really focus on outreach work and provide an early opportunity for children and young people to embrace history. From our past, we can learn about our future (I think that’s the quote). They’ve all had to adapt in these difficult times of course, and it’s a shame that Lyme Regis Museum is closed because they are celebrating their 100th Anniversary this year. Their adapting means they’ve launched a project called Museum at Home which includes creative activities. Well done!

A small aside. I pocked my head through the window at The Marine Theatre on the seafront as I love the theatre. From outside you would think it seats six people. Ideal for these covid times, but actually, it’s deceptively spacious and looks lovely. Hireable for events too it seems with views across the sea. Gorgeous.

I took what felt like a good long walk today. In reality it was a couple of miles. The rain started as soon as I left the house. Do I keep going or dart back inside? Continue of course. I cannot be outdone. Remember, one foot in front of the other makes a journey. It was a bit disheartening halfway round thinking I’d done for miles and only managing two but I spurred myself on. I’m doing this for Restore now, not just myself. Quite a few snowmen that are half melted and look a bit sad so I took a few pictures before they vanished completely without a trace. I also saw a painted pebble which brightened my day. I left it for somebody else that may need a boost. I have a picture and that’s enough for me.

Sadly, we bypass Charmouth which I should have liked to look at as it lays claim to one of the best beaches in the area for fossil hunting. I’ll have to imagine. I’ve a few bits of Amonite on my shelf. I’ll pretend I’ve had permission to pick them up from the beach. Charmouth has history too which we could have explored including the visit of King Charles II (undercover I note). Ah well, must press on. The general direction is east and the next main location is West Bay and Bridport.