As a kid my cousins and I used to spend hours and hours playing Monopoly on the floor at our grandparents place. Every school holidays we would spend a sizable junk of our day buying and selling properties, building them up with houses and hotels to increase the rent that we would receive when someone landed on our properties, passing GO, going to Jail without passing GO, being wiped out when we had to pay property taxes, and occasionally landing on free parking.
We lived in New Zealand, 12,000 miles away from London (and the streets of the monopoly board), on the other side of the world. I don’t think we knew (or even cared) that the streets and railway stations, of the game we loved so much, were real.
We could recite the order that each property appeared in on the board without looking, and we knew the cost of each property, the rental that had to be paid on each property if it was an empty lot, had one, two, three or four houses, or a hotel. We were obsessed with the game.
Having moved to London several years ago, and walked many of the streets of London during my various walking adventures, I had visited many of the streets on the monopoly board and two of the four railway stations. Always on the lookout for another adventure, I decided to walk from Old Kent Road to Mayfair via every property and every railway station on the board – and in the order that they appeared on the board. I wasn’t going to worry about the Chance and Community Chest cards, nor would I visit the two utilities – Electric Company and Water Works. The Monopoly game was originally created in the US in the early 1900’s and it wasn’t until the 1930’s that the UK edition was created, and therefore the Electric Company and Water Works didn’t actually relate to any particular location – they were just places on the monopoly board. Nor did Jail or ‘Go To Jail’, reflect actual physical places, but I decided that I would visit HMP Pentonville as the Jail because it was near Pentonville Road, the property immediately before the Jail on the monopoly board, and I thought I would visit New Scotland Yard when I got to the ‘Go To Jail’ corner of the monopoly board. Also, I intended to find ‘Free Parking’ somewhere in between Vine Street and Strand – something that wouldn’t normally be easy to do in London, but I was going to do the walk on a Sunday which made it a little easier to find a parking space that I didn’t need to pay for 🙂
Walking the Monopoly Board:
I had estimated that the walk would take me something between 8 and 10 hours to complete and even although I was doing it on a Sunday, I wanted to start early so that I would complete most of the walk before the city became too crowded with pedestrians.
So I drove my car across South London and parked it in the car park in Burgess Park, just off Old Kent Road and then walked down to where I could find an ‘Old Kent Road’ street sign to take a photo of, before officially starting my walk from outside number 279 Old Kent Road at 5:45am.
Old Kent Road
My plan was to visit each property and railways station on the board, in order, and take a few photos – one of the street sign, and one or two of the street itself. These are the photos of Old Kent Road at 5:45am immediately before starting my walk.
Old Kent Road is the only property on the monopoly board that is south of the Thames, so the first leg of my walk was to head north and over the Thames via Tower Bridge, and up to Whitechapel Road.
Kings Cross Station
Next was the long journey north west to Kings Cross Station. By the time I got here I had already been walking for 1 ¼ hours and was only half way along the first side of the monopoly board.
Kings Cross Station is immediately next to St Pancras Station and the two stations are commonly referred to as ‘Kings Cross St Pancras’. St Pancras Station looks much more interesting than Kings Cross so I thought I would take a photo of that station too:
The Angel, Islington
Unlike the other properties on the monopoly board, The Angel, Islington isn’t a street but is a property on the corner of Islington High Street and Pentonville Road (according to Wikipedia) but when I arrived there I decided to take a few photos of different places in the area. These are the best of them:
Next, it was back down past Kings Cross Station to Euston Road.
And back past Kings Cross again to Pentonville Road
There are nine prisons currently active in London – Belmarsh, Brixton, Feltham, Holloway, Isis, Pentonville, Thameside, Wandsworth, and Wormwood Scrubs (according to Wikipedia). There are also another 22 inactive prisons in the London area, some of which would have been operational back when the UK edition of Monopoly was created. I decided to visit HMP Pentonville as that wasn’t too far from Pentonville Road.
I had reached the end of the first side of the monopoly board in 2 ½ hours.
Kings Cross to Pentonville Prison via all the ‘light blue properties’ (The Angel, Islington, Euston Road and Pentonville Road) only took me 1 ¼ hours, but it was now another long walk through to Pall Mall via Regents Park (and I got a little lost along the way) but I eventually arrived at the first of the ‘pink properties’ 3 ¾ hours after leaving Old Kent Road.
When you play monopoly you could be forgiven for thinking that each property is close to the next one and that the railway stations are in the same area as the properties that are located on the respective side of the board, but this is not the case.
It was a 30 minute walk from Northumberland Avenue north west to Marleybone Station:
And then an hour south east to Bow Street, and the first of the ‘orange properties’:
As a kid playing monopoly I remember working out that if you could own all the pink and orange properties, and put hotels on them, you could win the game. This was because you could own a whole side of the board for a reasonable price, and because there were six properties on that side of the board (versus five on the first side) you had a 20% better chance that your opponents would land on at least one of your properties each lap of the board. And because the properties weren’t too expensive to buy, or to put houses and hotels on, compared to the red, yellow, green and blue properties, with some luck, you could get a monopoly over that whole side of the board much faster than you could elsewhere. It’s a pity I didn’t manage to carry this strategy through to real life. If I had, I would have much more time for these walking adventures rather than having to work during the week 🙂
In the 80+ years since the UK edition of Monopoly was created London has changed a little and there is no longer a Marlborough Street. There is a Great Marlborough Street and a Marlborough Road, and I decided that I would visit Marlborough Road as it seemed to me to be more within the ‘area’ of the pink and orange properties than Great Marlborough Street which is located towards the ‘green streets’.
Vine Street was actually a bit of a let down. It is the most expensive of the ‘orange properties’ on the monopoly board but in reality it is a short dead end road.
Next I had to find some free parking, but there wasn’t anywhere to park in Vine Street at all!
It was time to head west through the theater district to Strand and somewhere along the way I came across both of these parking signs:
It was now 12:30pm and I had been walking for 6 ¾ hours already and was only just arriving at the first ‘red property’. My original estimate of 8 to 10 hours was looking doubtful.
After Strand I walked further east to Fleet Street. Continuing in this direction would take me to Fenchurch Station but before visiting the next railway I had to backtrack to visit Trafalgar Square. I’ve never been keen on walking back the way I have already walked so I decided that I would walk a block or two south to the Thames and then walk along Embankment towards Northumberland Avenue and then up to Trafalgar Square. This would have been a good idea in theory, but somehow I managed to get lost inside the private grounds of the expensive residential properties between Fleet Street and Embankment and it took a bit of wandering around to find an unlocked gate to get out of the grounds again.
After leaving Trafalgar Square at 1pm it took me another 45 minutes to walk back past Strand and Fleet Street and up to Fenchurch Station:
And then another 45 minutes back to Leicester Square, which is only a few hundred meters north of Trafalgar Square!
And when I reached Leicester Square, which I had already walked through earlier in the morning enroute to other properties, I found that there wasn’t any room to walk due to a red carpet premier. The whole area was packed with people waiting to see some celebrities so I took a couple photos and then walked down a side street to get around the crowds to and on to Coventry Street (which actually runs off Leicester Square).
Coventry Street runs in to the last of the ‘yellow properties’, Piccadilly.
Go To Jail
It was now 2:45pm and I had been walking for 9 hours when things suddenly went wrong! I almost ended up in Jail after running in to this policemen at New Scotland Yard:
But fortunately I had one of these:
And was able to continue my walk to the first of the ‘green properties’.
Another change to the London map during the last 80+ years appears to be that Bond Street no longer exists and has been replaced with ‘New Bond Street’, but there is a Bond Street Station so I decided to visit that:
Liverpool Street Station
After leaving the last of the ‘green properties’ it was another long walk east to Liverpool Street Station. It was getting hot and I wasn’t walking fast, which meant it took over an hour to get there, and another 1 ¼ hours to get back to Park Lane.
I was now in to the most expensive area of the monopoly board – where landing on Park Lane with a hotel on it would set you back £1,500, and £2,000 for Mayfair. Land on Park Lane and then throw a double 1 and your game could be over!
On the monopoly board, Mayfair is an area, not a street. I decided I would finish my walk at Mayfair Place, but before that I wanted to visit the centre of Mayfair – the Mayfair Post Office:
The walk ended up being a total distance of 54 miles (87km) and had taken me 12 ½ hours. Not a fast pace, but I had stopped at 28 properties or stations along the way to take photos, as well as a couple other stops for food and water. I actually felt surprisingly good, which was just as well, as I still had to walk another 4 miles back to Old Kent Road and Burgess Park where I had left the car !
As someone who commutes in to London on the District Line on a regular basis, travelling a large portion of the trip underground and only surfacing when I arrive at my destination, I have often wondered what the various tube stations we pass look like from the outside.
The District Line is one of 11 tube lines that make up the London Underground network and in total it comprises of 40 miles of track with five main start/end points – Richmond and Ealing Broadway to the west, Edgeware Road to the north, Upminster at the eastern end, and Wimbledon to the south – and a total of 60 stations where passengers get on and off the tube, change to other tube lines, the overland rail service, or the DLR (Docklands Light Railway).
When I decided that I wanted to walk the District Line I used Google Maps to map out a route that would take me from Richmond (near where I live) through London and out to Upminster, and then from Wimbledon to Edgeware Road, and from Turnham Green to Ealing Broadway (the western part of the District Line branches off at Turnham Green and goes to both Richmond and Ealing Broadway). I also thought I would add in a quick out and back section between Earl’s Court and Kensington Olympia (1 mile each way) to cover the section of the District Line that only runs when events are on at the Olympia convention center.
In total this measured 48 miles along roads that would enable me to visit all 60 stations, and as I was going to be celebrating my 48th birthday soon I thought what better day to do this walk than on my birthday.
Leg 1 – Richmond to Upminster
At 3:30am on the morning of Thursday 14th July I was standing outside Richmond Station ready to head off on my adventure. The station was locked as the first tube doesn’t depart running until 5:30am on weekdays, and there wasn’t anyone to be seen anywhere. I took a couple photos including one showing the clock on the front of the station building and set off on my walk.
The start of the first leg took me from Richmond to Kew Gardens and was reasonably straight forward as I have walked all around the Richmond and Kew area over the last few years.
On arrival at the Kew Gardens station there wasn’t anyone there either, although there were a few bikes chained up outside. I took another couple photos and headed off towards Gunnersbury.
In preparation for the walk I had printed off my google maps (6 double sided pages in total) but when I went to check the route I realised that even with the help of the street lights, my eyesight wasn’t good enough to read the small printed maps. So out came my trustee cell phone and I typed ‘Gunnersbury tube station’ in to the Google Maps app.
Gunnersbury was the first of the many stations on the District Line that I had never seen from street level. The tube from Richmond to Hammersmith is all at ground level, but I had never got on or off the tube at Gunnersbury and didn’t really know exactly where it was.
It wasn’t long before I arrived at Gunnersbury though – I had only been walking about 40 minutes in total. I took a couple more photos, and kept moving.
It was at this stage when I realised that this was going to be a much slower walk than I had expected. Firstly I was walking slower than my normal training pace but this was probably just because it was dark and I often walk slower in the dark than in daylight, but I had also realised that stopping at each station to take photos was taking somewhere between 30 and 60 seconds each time. Multiply that across 60 stations and my total walk was likely to take as much as an hour longer than budgeted. Not a major issue though. Today was all about having an adventure and spending time on my feet. I wasn’t too concerned about my overall pace.
After Gunnersbury I headed for Turnham Green. The Google maps app guided me and I arrived just before 4:30am. This is the first station where there were actually people to be seen – only one person, and he was unlocking the security gate. I have been to Turnham Green a few times so knew what it looked like but I somehow it looked a bit different in the semi-dark. I took my photos and moved on.
Next was Stamford Brook, about 1 kilometer away. Another station that I had never seen from ‘outside’ – which is partially why I ended up going down an alleyway to back entrance before managing to find the front of the station.
The stations were closer together now as we were getting closer to London, and it wasn’t much further along the route until I arrived at Ravenscourt Park – another station that I had never seen from the outside.
Another kilometre and I was at Hammersmith. Although it was only 5am, it was now daylight. Hammersmith actually comprises of two separate stations. On one side of the road is the station that is the end of the Circle and Hammersmith & City tube lines (I’ll be walking those lines at a later date so didn’t take any photos of that station), and on the other side of the road is a massive round-about that is the main Hammersmith underground and bus station. The District Line passes through this station as does the Piccadilly Line which I often change on to at Hammersmith when travelling in to central London. On the route from Richmond, Hammersmith is the first station where passengers can change tube line and as a result it is always much busier than other stations I had passed on my journey. I don’t know if it is related, but in the 500 meters leading up to Hammersmith I also came across the first of the many homeless people I would see during the next hour or so sleeping in doorways.
The next station, Barons Court, was another kilometre down the road. This was the eighth station (including Richmond) that I had passed so far, and the fourth that I hadn’t previously seen the outside of.
On the tube itself, by now we are underground and I hadn’t previously seen the next four stations either.
First was West Kensington Station
Followed by Earl’s Court – the junction between the District Line running from Wimbledon to Edgeware Road and the District Line between Richmond/Ealing Broadway and Upminister.
Most stations have multiple entrances and my walk was only going to take me past one side each station, but I would see the other side of Earls Court this afternoon when I walk from Wimbledon towards Edgeware Road.
After Earls Court it was a little over another kilometre until I reached the Gloucester Road station.
And then South Kensington
And then a relatively ‘long’ stretch of about 2km through to Sloane Square
Followed by the next big station, Victoria. As well as being a junction of tube lines, Victoria is also a major railway station for both the London overland trains as well as national trains and buses. I walked a lap of the Victoria station looking for the best photo opportunity but unfortunately the main part of the station was hidden behind scaffolding.
St James Park station came next
And then I arrived at Westminster underground station, and the River Thames. I was only 13 miles (21km) in to my walk and it was already after 6:30am. I was 30 minutes behind my planned pace.
I took a ‘selfie’ in front of Big Ben (which is across the road from Westminsiter station) and then headed off along the Thames embankment, passing Embankment
And then Temple
enroute to Blackfriars. Blackfriars Station is another junction for both the underground and overland rail, and also has the unique feature of rail platforms over the River Thames.
After Blackfriars came Mansion House – the 20th station of my adventure. Based on the name, I had always assumed that the Mansion House station would be an impressive sight, but it was completely the opposite. Whilst it does have a street entrance (apparently), I couldn’t find it. All I found was several subway entrances – stairs down to the underground.
The next station however, was one of the larger tube stations in the city as it also doubles as a railway station. Cannon Street station is just a few hundred meters from Mansion House and after that it is just another few hundred meters to Monument station – which again, only appeared to consist of subway stairwells.
And then I reached the last station on the District Line that I am familiar with; Tower Hill. Tower Hill station is across the road from the Tower of London and near Tower Bridge, but it isn’t on a hill so I don’t know where that name comes from.
After Tower Hill I headed away from the Thames passing Aldgate East station as the commuter traffic was starting to pick up.
About a kilometre further on I arrived at Whitechapel as the market traders were setting up down the road.
And then Stepney Green a few hundred meters further along the road.
It was only another kilometre up the road to Mile End station which is the only station east of Tower Hill that I had been to previously.
And another few hundred meters long the road I reached the Bow Road station.
Bromley-By-Bow station was next. As I arrived at Bromley-By-Bow my cellphone battery died meaning no photo. But because I wanted a photo of every station, and I was working in Tower Hill the following day, I made a quick trip on the tube at lunchtime to take this photo.
From Kew Garden station through to now I had been relying on Google Maps on my cellphone for navigation except when all the stations were on the same road such as along Embankment and the road from Aldgate East through to Bow Road stations. I had printed some Google maps before leaving home but my map reading skills aren’t the best and this proved to be the case when I got totally lost in between Bromley-By-Bow and West Ham stations. Eventually I got back on track though and found the 30th station, West Ham. And I also charged my phone using one of the three USB charging sticks I was carrying with me.
The stations were a little more spread out now but it was still less than a mile between stations, with the next station on my journey being Plaistow followed by Upton Park.
And East Ham followed by Barking.
Upney (the 35th station of my walk) was next and then Beacontree.
And then the two Dagenham stations; Dagenham Heathway
And Dagenham East
After Dagenham East it was a 4km walk through to Elm Park. I think this was the only stretch (other than when I got lost between Bromley-By-Bow and West Ham) when I had to walk along way from the track. I had to walk a big L shaped course as there were no direct roads and to ensure I didn’t get lost I started using Google Maps on my phone again.
After Elm Park came Hornchurch
Followed by Upminster Bridge
And then finally I arrived at Upminster after 38 miles (61km) of walking and 8 ½ hours after leaving Richmond Station. The 42nd station that I had visited so far.
And that was only the end of the first leg of my adventure!
I was now well behind schedule. I had estimated (measured via Google maps on my computer) that the Richmond to Upminster leg would be about 32 miles and expected it to take no more than 7 hours. I had also hoped to leave Richmond at 3am and not 3:30am. My plan of walking the whole district line in one day was looking doubtful as I was supposed to be going out for dinner and a movie to celebrate my birthday in a more traditional style (than walking 48 miles because I was turning 48) and needed to be home no later than about 6pm. It was now 12 noon and I still had over 16 miles plus a few train journeys to go.
I jumped on the tube that was about to leave for what I thought would be a 1 hour trip to Wimbledon via Earls Court. And 1 ½ hours later I arrived at Wimbledon ready to start the second leg.
Leg 2 – Wimbledon to Edgeware Road
I’ve caught the tube in to London from Wimbledon a few times but other than a couple stations I hadn’t seen the outside of most of the stations between Wimbledon and Edgeware road 10 miles away.
Having just completed an 8 ½ hour walk followed by 1 ½ hours sitting on a tube I expected my leg muscles to be a little tight as I started walking but I was surprised to find that I felt OK. If anything, the only discomfort I was feeling was the small toes on both feet which felt a little bruised in my shoes. I was wearing Injini toe socks and had covered my feet in 2Toms Anti-Blister Powder before I left home, so I wasn’t expecting any problems, and so far, so good.
The first station on my journey north was Wimbledon Park one mile away.
Southfields Station was next
Followed by East Putney
And then I crossed the Thames via the rail bridge to arrive at the Putney Bridge station.
From Putney Bridge through to the finish at Edgeware Road there was never more than a kilometre between stations.
The next station was Parsons Green followed by Fulham Broadway.
And then I came across possibly the most interesting part of my walk when I walked through the Brompton Cemetery on my way to the West Brompton station. I have walked through quite a few London cemeteries over the last two years but the Brompton Cemetery was something else. As well as plenty of graves from the 18th and 19th centuries, there were lots of large family tombs. These were often the size of small garden sheds. Something I hadn’t noticed in other cemeteries. I could have taken plenty of photos, but I didn’t take any. Instead I walked through the cemetery and around the corner to the West Brompton station – the 50th station that I had visited today.
The next station on my route was Earl’s Court which I had visited earlier in the morning. This time I approached the station from the south so got to see another entrance to the station.
About 500 meters north from Earls Court I arrived at the next station – High Street Kensington
Followed by Notting Hill Gate. I’m not sure if there is a street level entrance to the Notting Hill station. All I found was this:
Bayswater station was next but I almost missed that as my Google Maps app diverted me down a side street around the back of the station. Once I realised my mistake I back tracked to ensure that I walked past the station entrance and got another photo.
And then I headed for Paddington. Strangely, this is one of my favourite stations but not because of the station itself. It is just a short walk along the canal from the finish of the Grand Union Canal Race which is probably my favourite race out of all the ultra-distance races I have ever done.
And less than a kilometre later I completed the second leg of my walk when I arrived at Edgware Road – the 56th station I had visited today.
It was now 4:30 in the afternoon and there was no way I would be able to complete either of the last two legs of the District Line and get home in time to go out for dinner. I decided to delay the final two legs, which were only going to be 1 mile and 3 miles respectively, until Saturday and caught the tube back to Richmond via Earls Court.
Leg 3 – Earls Court to Kensington Olympia
I decided to combine the final two legs in to a 20 mile walk on Saturday morning that also incorporated the Fulham Palace parkrun. I parked the car beside the river in Putney where you can park for free all day on Saturdays and after completing the parkrun (5km) I walked up to Earls Court station to start the third leg of my journey.
This was by far the shortest leg at less than one mile. The District Line only runs to Kensington Olympia when there are events on and today there was a ‘50+ exhibition’. Being only 48 I decided not to visit the exhibition and walked the 2 ½ miles through to Turnham Green in a direct line, rather than following the tube line, ready to begin the fourth and final leg of my adventure.
Leg 4 – Turnham Green to Ealing Broadway
The final leg took me along a part of the District Line that I had never traveled before. The first station, Chiswick Park, was exactly 1 kilometre from Turnham Green.
Next was Acton Town followed by Ealing Common
And only 3 miles after leaving Turnham Green I arrived at the final station of my adventure – Ealing Broadway.
In total I had walked 53 miles (not counting the extra mileage on Saturday before Earls Court and between Kensington Olympia and Turnham Green) and visited all 60 stations on the District Line. Possibly the first person ever to do this on foot!
It wasn’t a fast walk by any means. I had stopped at every station to take a photo or two – 150 photos in total – but the walk wasn’t about speed. I had had a great adventure and found myself already planning my next adventure* as I walked back to the car in Putney.
On the weekend of 11th to 13th March I attempted to become the first person to circumnavigate the M25 on foot non-stop. With the help of a few friends who acted as my support crew my plan was to start the 165 mile trek beside the QE2 bridge in Dartford, on the western side of the Thames, and walk clockwise around the M25 following the A and B roads until I arrived back at the QE2 bridge on the eastern side of the Thames (there is no pedestrian access to the bridge itself) some 40 to 48 hours later. Or at least that was the plan.
I contacted Fitbit to help me with my fundraising by sponsoring a prize to the person who had the closest guess as to the number of steps my walk took – providing that they also made a donation. And to that extent the walk was a success. I raised £1,500 for Sport Relief and hopefully also spread the word about this great little device called ‘Fitbit’.
Fitbit also kindly gave me a Fitbit Surge which was a nice upgrade on the Fitbit Charge that I previously used.
Unlike an organised event/race in which I only need to turn up to and walk, there was plenty that needed to be done before I even laced up my shoes.
Firstly, I had to plan the route. All I knew was that it would make sense to start and finish at the Dartford Crossing, although at the time I didn’t realise that pedestrians couldn’t walk across the bridge. The M25 motorway circles London but because it is a motorway, you can’t actually walk on the M25 itself. I have used MapMyRun previously to plan walking routes, including the ‘Richard Walks London’ route that I did in central London last year, so decided to use it to map my M25 route which would follow the A and B roads around the M25, staying as close to the motorway as possible throughout the journey. MapMyRun is an easy tool to use and it also integrates with Google Maps, and Google street view to enable the user to see what the roads along the route actually look like, and the route I mapped out looked OK to me.
There was a good mixture of narrow country lanes, suburban streets, and busier high traffic roads. Plenty of variety. The only problem, as I was to find out, was that in a number of places the roads that MapMyRun planned were not ‘roads’ as such, but were dirt or grass trails – they all had names including one grass trail called ‘New Road’. Fortunately the weather was kind to us as many of the trails would have been impossible to walk if it had rained throughout the week beforehand.
Once I had planned the route I created and printed detailed maps that spread the full 165 mile route across 55 A4 printed pages which had every kilometre marked and the names of all the streets that we would be following. I printed three copies of the maps – one for me and two for my support crew. I also laminated one of the copies in case it rained.
I also employed the services of OpenTracking.co.uk who uploaded the map to their website and gave me a GPS tracking unit to carry so that anyone who was interested, my support crew, and I could see where I was on the map at any time. This proved to be very helpful on a number of occasions when I got lost, although unfortunately the tracker stopped transmitting after about 30 hours.
And on a regular basis in the lead-up to the walk I posted on facebook and twitter to try and encourage donations to Sport Relief as well as entries in to the competition to win a Fitbit Surge.
After all the planning, the morning of Friday 11th March finally arrived and I left home mid-morning to travel via train to the start where I met one of my support crew, Sarah Lightman, who was giving up her weekend (along with Jim Hanson and Suzanne Beardsmore who would join us on Saturday afternoon) to help me achieve my goal. Walking long distances isn’t easy. When you get tired you can’t think clearly, and when you can’t think clearly you forget to eat regularly, and you make other mistakes that you wouldn’t normally make. But a good support crew makes all the difference, and I had the best. Both Sarah and Suzanne are experienced long distance race-walkers and Jim has supported us all during many races in recent years. I know that I wouldn’t have completed this walk without the support that these three gave me during the weekend. It definitely wasn’t something that I could have done solo.
Friday gave us a beautiful spring afternoon, and for the first time this year it was warm enough to wear a T shirt outside. We knew that the temperature would plummet overnight though and I had plenty of warm clothing plus other stuff I might need during the weekend which we put in to the back of Sarah’s car as I made final preparations for the walk.
And then at 2:30 in the afternoon I was off. The start of my next adventure.
I had daylight for the first 3 ½ hours and for most of this time it was reasonably warm. It was enjoyable walking along roads that I hadn’t walked before. Sarah was leapfrogging ahead and feeding me every 30 minutes and everything was well with the world.
But as it started getting colder my pace started to slow although I still felt good and was enjoying myself. Around about 7:30pm it was time for Sarah to leave me for the evening. We had decided that it was more important to have all three of my support crew with me on the Saturday night, and that as I would be relatively fresh and on roads that I had either walked or cycled before during the Friday night section, I would be OK walking alone. So I put all of my warm clothes on as well as my camelback which was filled with food and drink, and collected the maps that I would need to get me around the lower portion of the M25 overnight, and said goodnight to Sarah.
It got cold very rapidly and my pace dropped quickly. This wasn’t a race though so I wasn’t too concerned about my pace. Whilst I had a plan in mind that would see me walking the first 80 miles in 18 ½ hours to get through to Black Park in Windsor in time to walk parkrun at 9am on Saturday, I wasn’t going to lose any sleep if I didn’t make it. Actually I was going to lose a lot of sleep!
It was during the night that I realised why all of the long distance races I have done to date (8 races of 100 miles or further) have been in the summer – because the nights are so much warmer. The freezing cold weather was sapping my energy. At one stage my hands were shaking so much from the cold then when I tried to have a drink I ended up pouring it down my front. I was also having trouble reading my map when my hands were shaking, and got lost a few times by making silly mistakes.
But despite the cold I was still enjoying the adventure, and was evening enjoying having to find my way back on track after getting lost. The GPS live tracking was proving really useful.
At around 3am on Saturday morning I arrived at the A3 motorway. My map showed that I was to cross the motorway via a footbridge but I had somehow managed to arrive at the motorway about 50 meters down the road from the footbridge and in the dark I couldn’t work out how to get on to the walkway. So instead, given that there wasn’t any traffic, I climbed the barriers and the median strip and clambered across the road. Having crossed the motorway I needed to walk through the forest on the other side for about 200 meters to get to the road that I was supposed to follow, but somehow I managed to go the wrong way and it took me almost 30 minutes to find my way back out of the forest. The forest isn’t actually that big either!
A few hours later I got lost again when I found myself in the grounds of a hospital. My map showed that I should take the 2nd exit at a roundabout but the map didn’t include the hospital which was actually the 2nd exit. My wife happened to ring me while I was walking through the hospital grounds and asked how I was going. I replied that I am “in a hospital” and then quickly explained that I wasn’t actually “in hospital” but just lost within the hospital grounds.
And on another occasion I thought I was a few miles ahead of where I actually was, and was therefore reading the wrong page of my map. I tried to walk through a gate and down a private road but was stopped by security guards. I returned the way I had come and took another side street which wasn’t on my map (because I was reading the wrong page of the map) only to get completely lost. It wasn’t until about an hour later that I worked out that I was actually trying to read the wrong page of the map – and that was only because somehow I had managed to catch myself up and get back on to the correct page. All a part of the adventure.
Sarah called me at around 7am and we agreed to meet at Egham at around 8:30am. If I was to get to Black Park by 9am I had to be in Egham (65 miles into my trek) by 7am and that wasn’t happening, so I sent a txt to the Black Park parkrun event director to explain that I wouldn’t be there, and continued my slow’ish walk. The fact that I wouldn’t be doing parkrun would also help me catch up on some of the excess mileage I had done getting lost – as I wouldn’t need to do the extra 5km I had planned on walking within Black Park.
I passed the 100km mark in 14 hours 38 minutes and found Sarah soon afterwards with a hot Pot Noodles which was just what I needed to try and warm up. The weather was still cold so I kept my overnight warm clothing on and continued walking. I still wasn’t really tired. Just slow.
Sarah continued from where she left off the previous day, leapfrogging past me and feeding me every 30 minutes. At around 11am my parkrun and ultra-running friend, Louise Ayling, surprised me by joining me for an hour or more. It was good to talk to someone for more than just a few moments at a time although I don’t remember what Louise and I talked about. The conversation helped take my mind off the job at hand and made the next few miles go by that much faster (both in my mind and physically).
Louise walked with me until Suzanne and Jim joined us in the early afternoon and from there on I had a constant walking companion with either Suzanne or Sarah walking beside me to keep me company and take my mind off things.
For most of the afternoon I made steady progress through hilly countryside around the north western side of the M25. We walked past many beautiful and expensive properties and lots of small country pubs as we went from one village to the next. I was slow but was making steady progress walking at a pace of around 3 ½ to 4 miles an hour.
When we passed the 100 mile mark just before 5pm (26 hours and 19 minutes after starting) I posted on facebook that we would be finished within another 21 hours! And that was when it hit me – 21 more hours on my feet!
When doing an ultra-distance event, or any event for that matter, it is best not to focus on how far you have to go – at least not until you are almost finished. Up until then I had simply been focussing on one step after another. Every kilometre my watch would vibrate and I would check my pace. And then keep walking. I don’t think I gave any thought to how far I had to go until I got to 100 miles.
In need of a rest:
I kept going and continued to maintain a reasonable pace but as it got dark I started to tire. Jim and Sarah/Suzanne (whoever wasn’t walking with me) continued to leapfrog me but it seemed to take longer and longer to catch up to where they were waiting each time. Occasionally we would catch up with them before expected. This would happen when the ‘road’ we were walking down became a dirt trail that cars couldn’t travel along and they would have to double-back and find another route while we continued to follow the map.
There was one particular street, Tom’s Lane in Kings Langley, which I would have sworn was at least 3 to 4 miles long although Google maps tells me that it is only 1 ½ miles in length. It was a steady uphill slog from start to finish. I was walking with Suzanne at the time and Jim and Sarah came past us in the car, stopped a few meters ahead and jumped out of the car with packets of hot chips from the local fish and chip shop. This was just what I needed. I had basically been snacking for the previous 30 or so hours and it was really nice to eat something substantial.
Unfortunately it wasn’t enough though, and just as we approached 32 hours I decided that my idea of walking non-stop wasn’t going to work. At least not this time. We caught up with the car and I climbed in to the back and slept for 15 minutes – lying across the back seat with my legs hanging out of the door and my feet resting on a fold-up chair that Jim arranged as a foot rest. It wasn’t a deep sleep as I could hear voices but it was enough of a sleep for me to feel a little rested when I was woken up by my cold support crew who had been standing beside the car trying to keep warm.
I wasn’t ready to give up yet, but I was exhausted and needed a rest. I don’t know whether this was the start of the end, or whether the rest prolonged the inevitable, but 2 ½ hours later I again found myself sitting in the car, and this time we made the decision that at the pace I was walking (about 2 ½ miles an hour) there was little chance, if any, that I would make it to the finish within the next 18 to 20 hours and that the best thing for me was to get some proper sleep.
It was 1am on Sunday morning and I couldn’t face the idea of spending any more time on my feet, so I also made the decision that I wouldn’t attempt to continue after a sleep either. That was it. I had attempted to walk around the M25 and had failed. It was a challenge that had beaten me. Mount Everest wasn’t climbed by the first person who attempted it, and the M25 would not be walked non-stop by the first person who attempted that either.
It turned out that we were only a mile or so from the nearest hotel so we checked in to the Days Inn in South Mimms and I was asleep within minutes – after posting and tweeting a quick message to those people following my progress to advise that I had stopped.
A quick recovery:
Ruth collected me the following morning and Jim and Suzanne took Sarah back to find her car and they all headed back to their respective homes to recover from their ordeal – supporting is just as hard, if not harder, than actually doing the event and I am grateful for the work that they all put in over the weekend.
When I got home I slept on the couch for a few hours before going to bed for a few hours, having tea, and going to bed again. A great way to spend a Sunday, but not what I had planned.
Incredibly, the following morning I woke up feeling refreshed. And while eating breakfast I got this dumb idea about going back to South Mimms and continuing my walk. I had booked the Monday off work in order to recover, and I felt recovered. So why not go and complete what I had started.
I expected (and maybe hoped) that Ruth would try and talk me out of it, but she supported the idea so after breakfast I packed what I needed for an un-supported 45 mile walk, drove the car to the railway station nearest to where I would finish, and caught the train back to South Mimms. From there I walked the 2 miles back to where we had stopped in the early hours of Sunday morning and rang Suzanne to confirm that I was in the right place – there was a hand carwash on one side of the road and a pub on the other, and I couldn’t remember either of them. I thought we had stopped in the middle of a country lane but Suzanne confirmed that I was in the right place.
The last quarter:
My original map indicated that the whole route would be about 165 miles and we had completed 120 so in theory I had just 45 miles to go. It was 3pm on Monday afternoon so it was reasonable to expect that I could finish by about 2am given that I felt recovered, and even if I was a little slow, I should be finished by 4am. I didn’t need to be at work until 9:30am so I would have time to drive home, get a small amount of sleep, and then get over to north London where I was scheduled to be working for the week.
So I set off towards the finish and almost immediately got lost! Not a good sign. The plan had always been to follow the ‘A’ and ‘B’ roads on the outside of the M25, staying as close to the M25 as possible. And as we had discovered over the weekend, many of the ‘B’ roads were actually just dirt trails. This added to the interest though and meant that the walk was anything but boring. It also made getting lost very easy and my map reading isn’t great at the best of times. One of the other benefits of having Sarah and Suzanne walking with me on Saturday was that it was their job to navigate. But I was on my own now.
The first few hours of the walk were reasonably uneventful. I wasn’t walking fast but I was walking at a reasonable pace and was happy with progress. Until, that is, I came across a street sign that I recognised from earlier. It was about 9pm and I was in the same place I had been two whole hours earlier! I couldn’t believe it. I studied the map and worked out where I had gone wrong, and then followed the correct route. But two hours was going to cause me some problems with getting home and then to work in the morning. For the next few hours I kept convincing myself that I could finish by 4/4:30am but I knew in my heart that that was unlikely, and once I accepted reality I then spent a few hours thinking about what excuse I could give my client for letting them down – maybe I could tell them that I was sick (maybe I was), or maybe tell them that Zac was sick. But I then thought that potentially they may have heard about my walk, and it would be unprofessional if I made an excuse that wasn’t true. So I decided that I would call them and explain the situation when I got to the finish. If I had thought things through in advance I could have put my work clothes, laptop, etc, in the car and gone straight from the finish to the client’s office via a local swimming pool (for a shower) but this wasn’t an option. I would have to finish the walk, go home, have a shower, and then go to the client’s office.
I was enjoying the walk but wasn’t walking much faster than 3 to 3 ½ miles an hour, and having got lost for two hours it was likely to be after 6am by the time I finished. The good thing about that, though, was that it would be daylight when I finished meaning that I could take a ‘finish line’ selfie.
So I walked through the night, enjoying most of it other than the extreme cold. I had my neck and face covered during the night and it was so cold that I didn’t eat much – as eating meant I needed to bare my skin to the cold air. I wasn’t hungry though. With my new healthy eating diet I have found that I can walk for hours without eating. I did eat every couple hours, but not every 30 minutes as planned.
Eventually it became daylight and I still had a few miles to go. Cars and trucks started rushing past me as people headed off to work – and I kept walking. I got lost one last time, with just a few miles to go, when my map told me to go down a pedestrian path which had a locked gate at the end. I had to double-back and find another route through to the finish which was through the industrial area called ‘Greys’ on the eastern side of the Thames.
And finally, just before 7am, I arrived at the end of the road beside the QE2 bridge, and the entrance to a truck depot.
The journey had taken me 86 ½ hours from when I had started at 2:30 on Friday afternoon just a few hundred meters away on the other side of the river through to 7am on Tuesday morning. Of that, I had walked for 49 hours and 56 minutes not counting the additional 2 miles from South Mimms railway station to where I resumed the walk on Monday afternoon.
I had walked 177 miles (285km) and taken 342,313 steps. Add to that the 2 miles I walked from the South Mimms railway station and the 2 ½ miles I still had to walk back to the car, and it would be fair to say that this was my longest ever walk – beating the 176 miles I walked at the Privas 3 day race last year.
I had also raised almost £1,500 for Sport Relief!
After walking back to the car I rang the client I was due to see and explained that I would be late. Fortunately he was 100% understanding. I then drove home for lunch and a shower before heading off to work. No time for any sleep. Ironically, having just walked a lap of the M25, my Sat Nav told me that the M25 was too congested to drive home via that route and took me home via the A13 in to central London.
Walking distances of 100 miles or more tends to do a few strange things to my body.
Firstly, after every event I have done of 100 miles or further I have had night sweats for at least one, and often a few nights. It is as if I have an illness and my body is trying to sweat the illness out of me.
Secondly, my mouth and tongue tend to swell up a little and I lose all sense of taste. This time around the roof of my mouth also felt raw and it was painful to eat anything for a whole week. It is still not 100% recovered as I write this.
And lastly, the obvious one is that even with the best precautions, you tend to get blisters on your feet. For this event I used Injinji toe socks together with 2Toms Blister Shield and I only had two small blisters – one on the inside of each heel. Those blisters came through during the Saturday and I popped and drained them on the Monday before starting the final quarter of the journey. They came back again during that stage, but overall I am pretty happy to report that I walked 177 miles and only got two small blisters.
The other issue I had going in to the event was my right knee which had been causing me pain/discomfort and had limited my training during the 3 weeks leading up to the walk. The good news is that the knee didn’t hurt at all until I had my first sleep at 32 hours, and after that it was only occasionally uncomfortable. It is sore now, and I won’t resume training for another week or so to let it recover more, but it held up for the duration of the walk. During the walk I had the knee taped using Kinesiology Tape that I purchased on Amazon. My physio had recommended it and pointed me at this YouTube video which I followed to apply the tape.
And one other side affect that I have suffered from since my first Roubaix 28 hour race is that I appear to have killed a nerve or nerves in the front of my left foot, and don’t have much feeling in that foot. It almost always feels like I have ‘pins and needles’ but I have had the foot checked by doctors and there doesn’t appear to be anything wrong that they are worried about. It is just one of the side-effects of being a long-distance race-walker.
The good news, though, is that my legs recovered quickly. They were a little sore on the Monday but if it wasn’t for the blistered feet, I would have been walking normally by the Tuesday.