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Monday, 15 June 2015

Macmillan Way - summary

As a rock-climber you look at a crag and see “lines” of ascent, maybe following a series of cracks, or taking a central route up a fine slab, or following an overlapping edge, all providing aesthetic satisfaction.

It is not quite the same with a long distance walk, but for me having a focus has an attraction. The Pennine Way generally follows the high ground up the Pennines. The Severn Way (and other river routes) follow the course of a river, coastal walks have their own ambience, and other walks link furthest points of the compass from coast to coast, and of course canal walks are entirely dedicated to their raison d’ètre.

The Macmillan way doesn’t really have a  focus. It pieces together parts of other established routes, often using uninteresting,  previously rarely used public rights of way to make the links, usually round or through the middle of crop fields or over rough pasture trodden into ankle twisting unevenness by horses and cattle. It has its exceptions which partly make up for the mundane with the levées and salt marshes at the outset and a number of fine ridges elsewhere and plenty of old pack horse lanes with atmospheric historic associations and even Tarmac that has covered old Roman roads.

Another problem is rapid growth of vegetation in summer. Even paths that have obviously been cut earlier have re-grown, and repeatedly I found myself battling through head high nettles and cow-parsley (or stepmother’s blossom), and that combined with many stiles, often in bad repair, and the need for careful navigation slow average speed enormously. It is all too easy to get on the wrong side of a hedge and end up in a cul-de-sac field forcing retraced steps. At my age I know I don’t walk as quickly as I used to, but I found it frustrating taking nine or so hours to walk my average fourteen miles per day.

Quite a number of the old lanes have been trashed by 4 x 4s, tractors,  and worst of all horses - the latter leave a spread of cylindrical deep holes almost impossible to walk over. Horse riders I spoke to blame “The Hunt” for  this, and undoubtedly they must contribute, but there is much general horse riding in these areas - of course, I admit that they have as much right to pursue their activity as we walkers do ours.

Not taking the tent, and staying in historic country pubs and a number of classy B and Bs was a luxury I had decided to take regardless of cost and that made up for much of the above mentioned travails. I could not afford to do that on a regular basis, but it certainly made this trip worthwhile.

Both my knees are dodgy. Although they are  reasonably ok whilst walking they stiffened up badly once stopped in the evenings and were strangely more painful in bed, but would be recovered again next morning.

Perhaps my age has influenced these comments and I will certainly give careful consideration to future plans with these thoughts in mind.

This may read like a pessimistic account but I enjoyed the trip having met interesting folk, done plenty of people watching, and walked through a large tranch of the country I have not previously visited. The Cotswolds were of significant interest and an eye-opener - like a separate country ring-fenced for the wealthy with villages preserved as if in the 16th century except for the inhabitants, but with agriculture as big business, modernised by expensive machinery, large fields and high yielding crops. The sense of being close to semi-concealed seats of power with all their security and the wonder at how such people have managed to accumulate such wealth gave me an eerie feeling - it reminded me of The Prisoner.

The Macmillan Way guide could learn a lot from Cicerone Press who have developed the most practical format. Macmillan is full of phrases like: turn right, and soon..., or ...after some distance..., rarely are any specific distances mentioned. And even though they highlight historical and anecdotal notes in different text it is still irritatingly inserted into the walking instructions and there may be a dozen lines of this before you pick up the walking instructions again which also include phrases along the lines of: the top of the hill, look back for a good view of the lake, turn right... Walking instructions should be  explicit and specifically that and nothing else. We can decide for ourselves when to look back at a view. There are other inconsistencies such as: ...keep the hedge on your left, then ...keep to the right of the hedge.

It is not a fault of the guide, but it has become well out of date and they have published an ancillary list of corrections, but this is so badly done it is confusing trying to see where the new text should be inserted into the original.

I am working on the photos and hope to produce a Dropbox slideshow with captions shortly.


AlanR said...

Phew. Finally caught up after reading the whole walk in one go. It seems an interesting journey, lots of old buildings and pleasant folk generally. You certainly did well.
I must comment on the lack of tractor images considering the landscape!
I too have a pair of Mountain Warehouse shoes and find them very comfy and great value for money.
How lucky were you getting a free room in a hotel. Generous of the chap, he could have just walked out.

Sir Hugh said...

AlanR - You are a hero ploughing through all those nettles in one go. Sorry about the tractors. Although I do find them mildly interesting, and understand the attraction the immediate post-war Fergies with their revolutionary linkage system must hold for devotees I am not moved to frequently snap them unless they qualify for my "relics" file -i.e. half rusted away in some long grass with bits missing never to be used again. I collect photos of various such objects wondering about the history, and if the owner left the item there knowing it would be its final resting place, or perhaps with some idea that it may be used again, but never was.

AlanR said...

If you do the Skye trail you will come across one which sounds right up your street. I will say no more.

Sir Hugh said...

AlanR - If it is the same walk, I saw a film made by Cameron MacNeish and it looked very inviting.

There is another famous tractor I'm sure you will know about near Keld - It's on the Pennine Way or Coast to Coast path I think - I only discovered it recently on my ascent of Rogan's Seat. Not sure if this link will work in "comments", but here goes:

Copy and paste it into your browser if it wont go direct from here.

AlanR said...

Thanks Conrad. I know the one you are highlighting. Seen it a couple of times and Martin also photographed it. Yes the film made by CM is the same trail. Well worth a visit.

Anonymous said...

A thought-provoking summary of your Macmillan walk, which I have been following with great interest through all the overgrown paths, dodgy B&Bs and other ups and downs. Thank you for a great account. You should feel proud to have completed it, despite the difficulties.
I've walked most of the Jurassic Way (which runs between Banbury to Stamford) and this intertwines with the Macmillan Way for some of its route. Like the Macmillan Way, the Jurassic Way is an artificial construct, cobbled together from existing footpaths and bridleways. It was pleasant enough - beautiful in some places - but the route seemed ultimately pointless to me. My husband finds this hard to understand. A walk is a walk, right? But, like you, I've discovered I prefer a journey with some sort of guiding purpose to the route. Interesting observation.

Roderick Robinson said...

You really love that word levée, don't you? A high incidence rate if you take the other posts into account as well. No doubt this is being caustic, a charge I'm willing to bear.

It may be the Macmillan Way had a predecessor. Bypasses to crowded urban agglomerations may be desirable but they're also expensive. Especially when it comes to what William Cobbett called The Great Wen. But the metropolitan planners knew a thing or two about saving money. Rather than create a set of shiny new roads on t'other side of the Thames they merely created a set of shiny new signs. For The Great Wen a Great Lie: the concept of the South London Circular remains just that, a concept. The signs laugh in your face as you squeeze your way through ginnels, right-angle bends, into and out of backyards. Nor can this joke be truly described as a circular, only semi-circular at best. All part of the great metrocentric tapestry.

Sir Hugh said...

RR - Sustrans, a Government quango for cyclists I think have done something similar. They say they have created cycle routes all over the country. What they have actually done is put up a load of blue and white finger posts on minor roads and allocated cycle route numbers. Before that I never had a problem linking the roads together to my own preference.

Sir Hugh said...

coastalwalker - Thanks Ruth. it is heartening to hear from somebody who obviously understands what I am writing about. It is said (admittedly usually about fiction) that once an author puts his work in the public domain he has forsaken interpretation to the reader. If that interpretation is way off the author's original mark it can either be be frustrating or enlightening.

gimmer said...

I think a walk is a sort of 'living' metaphor for life itself
thus for Protestants, it should be linear and have a purpose and objective - preferably steep and narrow: if circular, there must be some peak or focus - but needs no graphic signposts on the way
for Catholics, as I understand and have observed, it can be, by and large, quite satisfying if circular and needing no specific secular objective - but does require moral refreshment stations on the way - this seems also to apply to Hindus
for Muslims, I really have no idea but current propaganda would seem to suggest a rose-girt Shalimar and cooling rills at the end - unless engaged upon jihad, whose heavenly reward is too well-known to need explicit description here
and for atheists, when they reach the end, it is the end, so it is the journey itself that counts.
So I'm with you (and Coastal Walker) here - maybe a bit of all these for a so-called multicultural world

Sir Hugh said...

gimmer - I'd better start quizzing people along the way about their religious or otherwise beliefs. For me the end is hopefully the start of another beginning.