DIARY

– CHARITY WALK IN AID OF GLOUCESTERSHIRE HOSPITALS

“WALKING FOR WARDS” - CIRENCESTER PARK

AND INCLUDED SEEING CHOC!

SUNDAY 02 OCTOBER 2016

 

 

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The view down the ride,

looking away from Cirencester

The view up the ride,

looking towards Cirencester,

along with cars belonging to early arrivals

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This is Ivy Lodge, close to the polo ground

Choc and Moose;

my shadow can be seen at the bottom of the picture

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Choc and Moose;

my shadow can be seen at the bottom of the picture

Moose, Choc and Jennie

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Moose, Choc and Jennie

 

Moose, Choc and Jennie

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Lady Bathurst (right) welcomes the walkers;

organiser Helen is pictured left.

 

 

Later in the walk,

after I’d said goodbye to Choc and Jennie

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This is Queen Anne’s monument

 

The view from my car following the walk

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At home later in the afternoon with my medal for completing the 10k walk

Here is a link to a selfie which Choc took of himself, Jennie and Moose:

https://mobile.twitter.com/Choc_Thornton/status/782630498820554752/photo/1

 

 

Shortly after I became a fan of Choc Thornton I set up a Google alert to bring to my attention any stories which might relate to him. The alert is still in operation and on Thursday 15 September this link arrived in my email box:

 

http://www.gloucestershirelive.co.uk/retired-jockey-bids-to-help-the-a-e-staff-who-patched-him-up/story-29715463-detail/story.html

 

With a guarantee that I’d see my favourite retired (or otherwise) jockey should I travel to Cirencester Park on Sunday 02 October, a plan was hatched.  Having sponsored Choc, I decided to sign up to take part in the sponsored walk too – I love walking and, as I was going to benefit by seeing Choc, it was appropriate that I raised sponsorship for the Gloucestershire hospitals (Cheltenham and Gloucester) in return.

 

To take part in the walk a minimum of £20 was requested to be raised and, by the time the day arrived, I’d raised £35.  My target was £50, and this was equalled the day after the walk, on 03 October. I have to confess that I’ve never collected any sponsorship before, as I’m always scared to ask people in case they say no!  Basically, I’m a chicken and fear rejection!  

 

Anyway, I had to find some suitable footwear – in this instance it meant buying a pair of ankle boots – M & S Footgloves in fact.  Unfortunately my old walking boots had been thrown away as, due to lack of use, they’d now perished; although that was not before they’d done a considerable number of miles. They had been my second pair of walking boots and had cost over £100 in the early noughties; I’d visited a specialist shop where they had advised and fitted them.       

 

I’d also got carried away and bought a belted cape from M & S … I chose a black and grey striped one with a belt – they had a number on sale in autumn 2016 and, if more solvent, I’d also have bought two other styles!  I’ve also bought a Simplicity pattern to make a belted cape, so may be tempted to make one or more myself at a future date.

 

The Sunday prior to the walk I went for a practice run … or practice walk rather, just to check that I could still walk 10k (6.2 miles) without too much effort.  I passed with flying colours; my route took me around Marshalswick and the ring-road, before crossing Verulamium Park and returning home.  I would certainly be at home in Roman Corinium, in other words Cirencester.  It also gave me an opportunity to break in my new boots; they passed with flying colours apart from one small blister under one toe.   

 

However, I almost suffered a last minute set-back when I felt unwell during the early hours of Saturday morning.  I’d felt a little bit nauseous when I settled down to sleep at around midnight.  Then around 90 minutes later I woke up feeling very unwell – it’s difficult to describe, but I recall feeling weak and shaky when I got out of bed – perhaps I’d not been breathing properly.  However, having recovered from that and gone back to sleep, I then woke up again a little while later and had to rush to the loo to be physically sick!   

 

The day of the walk fell at the end of a 5-day break from work; Wednesday to Friday plus the weekend.  The Saturday had been rather soggy but Sunday promised to be bright and sunny despite it being October. 

 

According to Google Maps the quickest way to Cirencester was via the M25 and M4 to Swindon, followed by the A419 to the Roman town … but that would bypass much of the beautiful Cotswold scenery.  I chose the M25, M40 and A40, a route I know so well!  It would take me around two hours to reach my destination with no traffic holdups. 

 

The walk was due to begin at 10:00, so I planned to leave home just before 07:00 as this would allow an hour’s wiggle-room.  This being the case, I set my alarm for 04:45.  I showered, washed and dried my hair and applied my make-up before eating a bowl of porridge for breakfast.

 

Although I knew what I wanted to wear, in addition to my belted cape I took my burgundy jacket, bright purple fleece and Hotter Leap shoes.  I wore two thermal t-shirts (grey with black birds and dark pink), roomy BHS blue v-neck cardigan, black jeggings (after a last minute change of heart from grey jeggings) and black fleece gillet.

 

In the end I left home just before 07:10. My route took me around the ring-road and down London Road to the London Colney roundabout, then along the dual carriageway to join the M25 at junction 20.  Being early on a Sunday morning, traffic was moving smoothly and I drove around the anticlockwise carriageway to reach the M40 before heading westwards to Oxfordshire.

 

The sun hadn’t put in an appearance yet and, in fact, the communications tower close to junction 5 was shrouded in mist. There were road-works on the westbound carriageway between junctions 6 and 8. The surface of the inside carriageway had been removed, with traffic using that lane diverted onto the hard shoulder within a 50mph speed limit.  Fortunately I’d chosen to use this lane as, if I’d chosen lanes 2 or 3, I would have been unable to leave the motorway at Junction 8, the turning for Oxford!       

 

There was little traffic as I headed along the A40 to the Headington roundabout, before continuing along the Northern Bypass towards the next one. The initial stretch of this route had a speed limit of 30 mph because a new junction was being constructed, with traffic lights. Further along, new traffic lights had been installed at the Cutteslowe roundabout. At this point I became stuck behind a horse-box.

 

The following roundabout is the infamous Wolvercote one; the bane of my life when I head to the Cheltenham Festival.  However, traffic lights have now been installed around this one also.  There were road-works here when I journeyed to Cheltenham in March and this is the resultant ‘improvement’.  Hopefully it solves the traffic jam issues which occur every weekday morning although, next year, I’ll only need to suffer them on the first day of the Festival because I’m staying near Witney!  

  

I followed the horse-box, with just a red Ka between us, until the beginning of the Witney bypass, at which point I overtook it. I must visit the ‘Crocodiles of the World’ centre in Brize Norton one day, having seen the brown visitors sign on numerous occasions! Having reached the far end of the dual carriageway, I continued my journey along the A40 to the roundabout above Burford.

 

I remained on the A40 for a short distance, before taking a road to the left, the B4425. I’ve driven to Aldsworth a couple of times but, today, I continued en route to Cirencester.  At one point, after Aldsworth but before Bibury, there was an old fashioned gypsy caravan with tethered horses parked up on an area of wider verge.  The road passes through the picturesque village of Bibury; I’ve not been there since a teenager!  Had I been earlier, I would have parked up beside the river and taken a few photos.  It’s a naturally attractive village, rather than a ‘special’ creation like Bourton-on-the-Water, where the river was diverted to run along the main street.

 

The road crosses a narrow bridge within the village before continuing through Barnsley and reaching Cirencester. There is a set of traffic lights just before the A417; the road from Stow joins here.  I noted a road leading to Services at the first roundabout I encountered; useful if needing to spend a penny later in the day.  The road then crosses the A417, before there is another roundabout; I headed straight on towards the town.

 

Having passed through traffic lights there is a further roundabout, denoting their ring-road.  I turned left and, at the far end, right. I headed straight on at yet another roundabout. There was a further roundabout, with a turning to the hospital being the first exit; I took the second exit and headed under a pedestrian bridge.  The road then headed up hill to a final roundabout; I took a right turn to head along the A419 Stroud Road.  There were temporary signs indicating the entrance to be used for a cycling event taking place today.  

 

I passed the Royal Agricultural University buildings on my left and eventually found the gatehouse and roadway denoting the entrance to the Cirencester Polo Club.  The sign was on the left, with the road on the right-hand side.  Another vehicle followed me in.  I drove along a narrow driveway, with passing places, and eventually arrived at the area beside the polo field where I parked up next to a row of vehicles.  There was a gazebo opposite, where the organisers had set up their administration station.  The Metz Band was limbering up too, within a second larger gazebo.  

 

The lady who’d followed me up the drive introduced herself as Helen; she was one of the organisers and would be taking part in the walk.  Helen had undergone a hip replacement operation not that long ago. 

 

There was a unisex loo block close by, so we both set off in that direction ahead of the walk; better safe than sorry.  The grass was quite long in this area and my feet felt a little wet despite the fact I was now wearing my new Footglove boots!  Having returned to the administration gazebo, another of the organisers, Richard, signed me in – I was the first person to officially report.                  

 

I then loitered around waiting for Choc to arrive!  He, his partner Jennie and dog Moose, a pointer, arrived at 09:40.  Sadly it was not his turn to look after son William this weekend.  Choc came over to the gazebo to sign in, whilst Jennie stayed with their dog. He also chatted with a number of the organisers. 

 

Once their conversation had dried up, I went across to say hello; as always I greeted him with a kiss on each cheek!  I explained that, as I’d come along to see him, I’d signed up for sponsorship too.  “Are you alone?” he asked.  “Yes, a friend had expressed an interest but had later discovered she had too many commitments this weekend so sadly couldn’t make it.”   Anyway, I explained that I was walking in memory of my late father, whose birthday it would have been today.  He passed away in 2011 following a long battle with Multiple Myeloma (bone marrow cancer). 

 

Choc must have been feeling hardy, as he was wearing shorts, although he did admit to feeling a little cold at that stage.  However, at no point, did he lace up his boots!

 

Choc has given up smoking – he’s been using e-cigarettes for nearly six months now, which is excellent news and I told him so too.  He said he didn’t realise, until he’d given up, how much he would have smelt of cigarettes during his days as a smoker; although he always used to smoke outdoors, never in the house or car. However he did say that using an e-cigarette is like having a baby’s dummy though!     

 

He asked if I’d said hello to Jennie yet so, as I hadn’t done this, we walked across to see her and Moose. I also congratulated her on the recent baby news.  Choc looked after Moose whilst Jennie nipped to the loo; I took the opportunity to take a couple of photographs of Choc and his dog.  Although not a ‘dog person’ (or a ‘cat person’ for that matter) I did stroke Moose and he was a nice dog. 

 

Jennie was wondering whether to wear her trainers or her Timberland boots – the latter I suggested, as the longer grass was very wet.  As my feet felt like they’d got wet when I’d walked to the loo earlier; I presume water had managed to ingress through the zips on my boots.  It is occasions like this when I wish I still had my walking boots although, if they are not looked after properly, they will leak too.

 

Choc excused himself in order to take his dog for a ‘comfort’ break and Jennie went to change her boots; meanwhile I wandered back to the main group.

 

Choc, Jennie and Moose had decided to walk the shorter 3k route, as Choc was due to travel to Newmarket for the Tattersalls sale later in the week. But, fortunately, the first part of his route and my route coincided! 

 

There were a number of people taking publicity photos of the walkers taking part and the walk started 10 minutes later than planned, at 10:10.  We set off through a ‘starting gate’.  Initially we walked across the grass, heading towards Ivy Lodge, before joining the roadway to the rear of the polo field. 

 

Choc and Jennie were a number of people ahead of me but, as we headed towards a wooded area I decided to overtake in order to catch up with him to have a chat.  Jennie walked ahead of us, as she was leading Moose.     

 

I asked about the AppleTree Stud’s interests in National Hunt racing – Tyrell will have one more run before going hurdling, and plans are up in the air as regards Ardamir – he will either return to hurdling or will be kept going through the winter on the all-weather; they are not a fan of mixing both codes. 

 

The Pirate Queen’s filly foal may also have a career over jumps; being a small horse is no handicap as regards to being a good NH horse – Katchit being an example. And, of course, both her foal and Katchit were sired by Kalanisi.  Besides, said Choc, the larger the horse the more injury issues they have.   

 

I talked about trying to keep track of the AppleTree Stud’s horses – I use the ATR tracker to let me know when they are running.  Choc mentioned that the Stud’s association with Jamie Osborne has been ended – “it didn’t work out”.

 

I spoke about visiting training yards this summer – Graeme McPherson, Jamie Snowden and Noel Williams; mentioning that Noel trains the racehorse I have a very small share in, Menace.  Choc said that they sometimes use Graeme McPherson’s gallops, because he’s based just around the corner from them!  And, when I asked if I could visit the Stud at a future date, Choc said yes!  J  I also mentioned Graeme’s tongue-less charge, Skipthecuddles. 

 

Building works have only just been completed at the Stud, and Choc confessed to being out until 21:00 the previous evening trimming the hedges – they weren’t satisfied with the standard of workmanship by the company which was employed to do this last year!  Choc says he loves every aspect of working at the Stud.

 

He could see both Willie Mullins’ and Gigginstown’s points of view regarding the recent split from Ireland’s Champion trainer.  Evidently a similar thing happened with Sir Robert Ogden who used to keep horses with Alan King.  However, with 60 horses, Choc thought Gigginstown had a point, but Willie would be okay because of the quality of horses which remained, including those owned by the Ricci’s.  Choc said AppleTree Stud would place two or maybe three horses with a single trainer, no more.

  

Moose is very well behaved when on a lead but just crazy off of it; Choc said there is a school of thought that believes you shouldn’t try to train a Pointer until they are two years old!  Choc explained that Moose loves to be in the company of people and, if left at home alone, he will wreck the place – he recently trashed William’s bedroom in fact! 

Choc mentioned that they went to visit his family last weekend and went down to one of the local pubs for lunch.  As dogs were not permitted inside the pub, it provides a run so that their patrons’ canines are in a safe environment whilst their owners are inside.  However, although the sides of this run were high, Moose managed to jump out and he’d disappeared by the time Choc and his family returned to collect him.  Jennie was beside herself, wondering if they’d ever see their dog again.  However, Choc’s dad set off down the road and discovered Moose at another pub close by – he was sitting under an outside table whilst people were having their lunch thereon!       

Choc admitted that he used to hate summers when he was riding but, now, he loves them.  The only thing he enjoys about the winter now, is skiing!  They were also wondering what they’d do for lunch as neither Jennie nor Choc had eaten breakfast.

Nets had been placed on the ground, surrounding a number of trees within the woodland.  However, although Choc, Jennie and I did discuss this, it didn’t occur to me until I examined further trees later during my walk, after we’d parted company, that they were in fact beech trees; beech nuts were being collected.  This was confirmed a little further along when a number of walkers in front of me actually picked some up and ate them!   

A number of points along the route were signed with an arrow, others by stewards.  Eventually we came to the parting of our ways; I turned left and Choc and Jennie turned right … but not before I’d given him a departing kiss on both cheeks!  I also wish Choc luck at the Tattersalls Yearling Sales later in the week.

My route was a little slippery after this point, that’s when proper walking boots would have come in very useful.  I’d earlier recounted an incident during the first few weeks of my rambling career, when wearing trainers; the surface of the footpath had been so slippery that my companion Mark and I were almost wetting ourselves because we found attempts to remain on our feet hilarious!

Eventually the 10k walk returned to the main driveway and we headed back towards the start, before turning left at a T-junction to head through woodlands and then left again to head back along another wide corridor between trees.  The park opened out at the far end, and we turned right to skirt along the edge of woodland.  The column with the statue of Queen Anne atop was over to our left. 

Further along we turned right and the pathway headed down a fairly steep slope; I lost ground upon those in front of me on this section as I wanted to ensure I didn’t lose my footing and slip over onto my bottom!  Although, come to think of it, I always used to trip up and Mark used to slip up! 

Anyway, the route then headed around the edge of a field, at which point I overtook the group of people in front of me; the gradient was slightly uphill!  People with short legs usually find it easier to walk up hills than people with long legs … Mark used to overtake me on steep hills, and I used to overtake him on the flat.

The route bore around to the left before disappearing into the woods once more. Shortly afterwards a lady from the group ahead started to chat to me.  Eventually we came out into the open, at a road crossing; the organiser, Richard, was waiting to guide everyone along the final section of our route.  It was a bit muddy on this section but not impassable.        

Finally we could see the starting point in the distance so we headed over in the direction.  Having headed back through the ‘starting gate’, everyone completing was handed a bag containing a bottle of Nestle water, a satsuma or clementine (as it had no seeds) and an energy bar; I ate the latter but saved the other two items for later.

The walk had taken less than two hours to complete but, as explained to us after we’d finished, it was slightly shorter than the planned 10k because sections of the original route were still too flooded to use following Saturday’s heavy rain.   

As my boots were very muddy, I was relieved to change into my driving moccasins before sitting in my car to consume the two cheese rolls which I’d brought with me; I left at around 12:15.

Not having realised that the roadway in was one way, I headed back down the gravel driveway in the direction from whence I’d come.  However, having reached a T-junction there were two no entry signs, either side of the driveway to the left, so I had to turn right.  The road, which bordered the polo field, headed past Ivy Lodge before disappearing into the woods; in fact it was the route I’d walked earlier!  I took the right-hand fork further on, close to farm buildings, but not before passing a car heading in the opposite direction. 

There was a sharp right-hand turn still within the wooded area before the roadway exited into the open parkland once more.  A short distance further along I realised that I’d almost driven a full circle; this was because a car entered the roadway from the right – it was a car belonging to another of the walkers.   

I continued along the roadway and into the woods once more; there were walkers further along so I had to manoeuvre around them and eventually my route met up with the inbound driveway, close to the gatehouse.  I turned left and drove a few yards to the main road, the A419.  Having turned left, I headed back past the Royal Agricultural University to reach the roundabout where I turned left again to head back towards Cirencester.     

I drove down the hill to a further roundabout, where I turned right.  At this point I misjudged the number of roundabouts I would encounter.  As a result I accidently turned left at the following one and headed into Cirencester by mistake. I didn’t know where I was going, and I don’t tend to do a U-turn unless absolutely necessary; I like to style it out!  So I headed along Watermoor Road hoping to turn right but, eventually, I encountered a one-way system so had to turn left into Querns Lane instead. 

I journeyed down to a T-junction, where I turned right into Sheep Street. After a couple of small roundabouts I ended up back at the Cirencester bypass once more.  I turned left; take two.  Having reached the next roundabout once more, I took the second exit this time and continued along to a further roundabout where I turned left. At the far end I turned right and headed back towards the roundabouts situated either side of the A417.   

I now had the option of returning via the outward route or taking a longer scenic route … I chose the latter because I just love the Cotswolds!  This being the case I headed up the A429 to Stow-on-the-Wold.  I wouldn’t have been keen had it been during the hours of darkness, having travelled in the opposite direction between the A40 and Cirencester back in January 2015; on that occasion I was heading to Newbury to attend Pogo Pandemonium.

Unlike the current A40 which travels east to west along a fairly level plateau until it descends into Cheltenham, the A429 heads north easterly and crosses a number of hills and valleys; it’s a Roman road.  The most notable of these valleys was at Fossebridge; even the map shows it as a steep gradient on both sides!  The road also passes the western end of Northleach, at which point the road passes through another deep valley and there is a traffic light controlled junction at the bottom of this one too.  There is an old House of Correction situated to the western side of the road at this point.

However, today, it was impossible to travel too fast because there was a horse-box travelling at the head of the line of traffic; the horse was grey on this occasion.  The one travelling westwards out of Oxford earlier in the day was a skewbald!  Having crossed the very familiar roundabout on the A40, the profile of the road continued in much the same vein all of the way to Stow-on-the-Wold; passing the entrance to Bourton-on-the-Water in the process.

I finally overtook the horse-box as I drove up the steep hill on the approach to Stow.  I turned right at the traffic lights situated at the western end of Sheep Street and followed two coaches down the hill, passing the Bell at Stow in the process.  It was very familiar territory, especially when I passed the road which leads to Bledington; Graeme McPherson’s yard is just a short distance along it.          

I continued along the A436, heading down to the narrow railway bridge and past the lane to Adlestrop.  Having arrived at the A44, I turned right.  Both coaches turned right then almost immediately left to head to the Rollrights.  There was a brief delay due to temporary traffic lights on the road to Chipping Norton.

Having passed the Bliss Mill nestling in the valley bottom, I drove up the hill and through the main street of the town.  At the far end I took the ‘local traffic’ route as I always do … despite not being local traffic!  The road cuts the corner off, as the suggested route takes vehicles to a roundabout where you have to turn right to return to the original A44 route. 

I continued to Enstone before bearing left to head along the A4030. The Gloucestershire Cotswolds have a different feeling to the Oxfordshire Cotswolds … I much prefer the former!  Chipping Norton is in Oxfordshire, but only just, as is Burford; the furthest east you’d probably wish to live is in Chipping Norton.  

Anyway, I headed back through Gagingwell and the Bartons, past the haunted Hopscroft Holt Hotel, down the hill to the causeway at Rousham and through Caulcott and Middleton Stoney.  The road then heads over the M40 before arriving at the outskirts of Bicester.  The vehicle I’d been following for ages turned right at the first roundabout, whilst I continued in the direction of the Shopping Village.  Being rather sad, I actually counted the number of speed humps which have been installed along the road as I headed through the housing estates, new builds to the right and existing to the left; there are 16 bumps in total!

At the far end I turned right, before negotiating the roundabout at the entrance to the Shopping Village, and then left at the following one; this stretch of the route is still undergoing road-works, and the car park of the recently constructed Tesco store to the far side of the bypass was very busy with Sunday shoppers. 

I headed along the aforementioned bypass before continuing along the A41 to Aylesbury; the journey was slower than usual due to the weight of lunchtime traffic.  Having arrived in the Buckinghamshire town, I headed around their ring-road; work was still being carried out on a new junction near the far end thereof.  I re-joined the A41 and continued to drive in an easterly direction in order to reach the beginning of the dual carriageway bypass section. This permitted me to bypass Tring and Berkhamsted, before leaving at the Hemel Hempstead junction.  Whilst still on the bypass, I was very pleased to see the Belted Galloway cattle in the field at Boxmoor … it had been ages since I’d seen them; in fact I’d thought the nearby farm had stopped raising them!

Having left the bypass I headed down the steep hill to the traffic lights on the A4251. When the lights changed to green I continued across the junction into Two Waters Way and onwards to the Magic Roundabout. I then headed up the steep hill in the direction of the M1, before turning right to travel through Leverstock Green.

Having exited the 30 mph zone and emerged into the countryside, there are speed cameras to ensure traffic remains within a 40 mph limit for the initial stretch.  Fortunately I was paying 100% attention today, unlike in August when I’d been heading in the opposite direction and had entered the zone but accidently continued at around 47 mph past one of the cameras – I’d been taking mum to hospital, so my mind was elsewhere that day!  But, luckily, I’ve not been notified of a speed violation.

The road heads over the M1 and under the A414 in quick succession; shortly afterwards I encountered two ramblers walking along the side of the road.  They were on the correct side of the highway, facing towards oncoming traffic, but it was not a sensible idea considering the speed of traffic on this section of the road.  

I continued down Bluehouse Hill to the roundabout at the start of the Redbourn road, before heading around the ring-road and home. I also passed ‘Smiley Sid’ and, having kept within the 30 mph speed limit, he smiled at me!  I arrived home at 15:00.   

 

 

 

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