My coast to coast walk in 2006 really infected me with the long distance walking bug. The unbroken sequence of days where all I have to worry about is putting one foot in front of the other is incredibly therapeutic. The feeling of getting stronger each day is almost tangible and by the end of the walk I felt as if I could have carried on walking for weeks. I wanted to experience that again when walking selecting my long distance walk for 2007.
My thoughts and plans at the end of the C2C leaned towards a short LDP for 2007, mainly because my wife and I were treating ourselves to an exotic two week holiday in Mexico and I probably wouldn’t have enough annual leave to do another long path.
This narrowed my choice of paths somewhat and I eventually plumped for the West Highland Way, to be completed over 7 days, towards the back end of summer. This would spread my holidays across the year more evenly and may help to avoid the worst of the dreaded midges.
I was also expecting to be joined on the walk this year by at least one friend and possibly two. My long standing walking buddy Rob (aka Tex Gore) had been planning on doing the C2C with me, but dropped out early in the year and was adamant that he would join me for my 2007 walk. Mike is a more recent walking companion and my enthusiastic monologues on my 2006 C2C walk had encouraged him to attempt a long path as well. As it turned out, neither potential partner was able to make the walk and my planning continued on the basis of walking alone – again!
The planning stage started early in 2007. We had a foul winter, far too mild and wet for my liking and nothing like the winter of 2005/06 which provided many clear frosty days. As a result, the walking over winter 2006/07 was poor and much of it was replaced by planning activities.
I spoke to and booked a number of B&B’s along the West Highland Way, somewhat taken aback by the prices being charged for single accommodation. It was much more expensive than the equivalent cost of the Coast to Coast the previous year. The cost of my Mexican holiday had pretty much emptied the family coffers and I was beginning to worry that the WHW may be too expensive. I was also beginning to think that it wasn’t enough of a challenge for me. The WHW is much shorter, flatter and easier than the C2C and I started to look at whether it would be possible to fit in a longer walk after all.
By sacrificing a couple of days holiday at Christmas, I managed to scrape together enough time to allow me 12 days walking (including travel to and from the start). This opened up a whole raft of possible long distance walks. I looked at several options and decided upon the Offa’s Dyke Path – mainly because it’s a challenging walk through an area I’ve never walked before and I could commute to and from the walk without burning any of the 12 days allocated for walking.
This did of course mean that I had to cancel the reservations made in Scotland – fortunately I hadn’t sent any deposit cheques yet – and make all new reservations in Wales. This turned out to be a fairly painless task. The B&B’s along the ODP were generally much cheaper than those along the WHW and availability wasn’t a problem. It seems to be a lightly trodden trail in comparison.
The guidebooks are evenly split between walking North-South and walking South-North, but as we live close to the northern end of the path I thought it would be nice to walk South-North, almost walking home in effect.
Unlike the problems I had making travel arrangement to and from the C2C, Offa’s Dyke was sorted almost immediately. My wife almost insisted on taking me to the start and collecting me from the end of the walk.
When I was planning the C2C, I found hundreds of journals and diaries on-line to describe the stages of the walk and from these I managed to glean plenty of information on what routes to take, where the best places to stay were, which stops had the best amenities and so on. There is nothing like as many journals for Offa’s Dyke and I found so few that this sort of information was not available to me. As such, planning my stages was a bit hit and miss and in the end I suffered considerably due to this.
One of the best resources for walk planning along the ODP is the Offa’s Dyke Association website. They have an accommodation guide, listed in order of progress along the path and loads of other useful bit of information like the location of water taps on the route.
As with the C2C I was planning on making short diversions off the trail to pick up a number of trig points. With hindsight this was a big mistake; I never expected to suffer as much as I did from poorly maintained local rights of way, fences across footpaths, missing stiles etc.
There is a real gap in the market here. No-one seems to offer baggage courier services along the ODP, unless you book the whole walking holiday package with them. Now that may be because its just not financially viable to offer this service, perhaps because the path isn’t that heavily used, or perhaps the route is too far away from an easily navigable driving route – I’ve no idea, but it left me with a problem.
If you use the official Offa’s Dyke Path website – and I recommend you do, its a very useful resource indeed – you will notice that many of the B&B’s offer a luggage service. This sounds promising – until you investigate a little further. The B&B will arrange to have your luggage shipped to the next B&B along your route, but they tend to use local taxi services to do this and the cost is anything from £20 to £30 per leg. You may find one or two that use their own transport to ship your bag – and they may come in at a little less, but even so you’re looking at about £300 to move your bag along the route, if you take the usual 12 days to complete the walk. This was far too expensive for my tight-arse sensibilities.
The alternative of course, is to carry your own luggage! If you consider that the bag I had transported along the C2C weighed almost 20Kg, you can imagine how much extra gear I wanted to have along with me to complete a long walk. I would have to pare this kit list to the bone, back to an “absolutely essential” list.
Some of the money I saved in not paying £300 on baggage transfer, went towards some lightweight articles for my walk – I got a new lightweight waterproof jacket and a lightweight 45 litre rucksack. I also abandoned some items all together. After much soul searching and deliberation I decided against carrying my waterproof overtrousers for example, on the basis that I would rather suffer wet trousers than carry the 1/2 kilo of weight. As the route doesn’t include much high level walking I also left behind my cold weather hat and gloves. Other items were also left behind in the attempt to save weight.
Part of the paring down process of my kit included the maps I would be able to carry. I would be using my GPS for navigation, and this displays the relevant OS map with my route highlighted on it. In the event that this fails however, I need to have the paper maps to fall back on. I needed to come up with a lightweight alternative to carrying the half dozen or so OS maps in my pack. My solution was to use Memory Map and print the map portions that I needed onto a number of A5 sheets of paper. These I would carry in an A5 waterproof document holder and discard the paper map sections when I’d finished with them.