This challenge was inspired by finishing this book – The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (like the main character, it was slow and plodding although ended heart-wrenchingly good), about a man who redeems himself by walking the length of Britain. I’m obviously not going to follow in his footsteps, but in a very rare thing of having a day off without the kids, I thought I’d just walk for a while. No set destination I thought I’d spend a couple of hours without emails buzzing, kids’ incessant ramblings and cries for milk in my ears.
So after dropping the kids off I went for a walk. I thought I’d head off in the general direction of Richmond, about 5 miles away and came to the Grand Union Canal. Instead of turning left towards the Thames, fate turned me right and off I walked. Up along the Hanwell Locks, passed a couple of pubs, the murky water was tranquil and still. I came across a sign which indicated Uxbridge was nearly nine miles away. I calculated that if I walked on average 1 mile every 15 minutes that would take just over 2 hours. Perfect.
So along I went, hoping to see what I would find and what my brain would converse with me without emails, music or company. I passed waterhomes, dead pigeons, tons of rubbish and dog poo. My feet tread over grass, loose stones, set gravel and bridges. New homes, old homes, centuries-old lock cottages and ugly industrial estates littered the way. Going due West planes were coming towards me, leaving Heathrow for their distant destinations. To my right in Southall, a group of people were mass-Bhangra dancing in a park for exercise. Around the Bulls Bridge, where the canal junctions off to Paddington, it suddenly became quiet. The hum of the diesel engine purring away on the barge keeping me company along the tow path. The canal meandered to meet the main railway lines between London and the West and the noise crescendo-ed back up, the air being punctuated with train whistles on a background of airplane engine.
Considering the canal concludes in Birmingham, the West London part of the Grand Union seems to take an age to bend to the right and head northwards. When it did eventually turn North (just at West Drayton station, due North of Heathrow), the constant hum of airplanes was strong, and petered out the more my feet carried me north. I came across a marina, and barges were moored along both sides of the canal. Little gardens, some with gnomes, were on the tow path, evidence of long-term or permanent moorings, families and people calling the canal their home.
I eventually reached the turn-off for Uxbridge and rather unceremoniously I had to jump over a low fence to get to the road my map app said I needed. My feet were starting to hurt, embarrassing for someone who had only walked about 9/10 miles in about 2 and a half hours. Whilst my feet ached, my body and mind felt exercised, refreshed and empty, ready for work the next day.
Have you done something different? What was it like? Please keep those suggestions coming in to @jelly_wobbler.