New Jaunts Old Haunts

Walking through the Saanich Peninsula in late April

On one of my weekly 15-mile walks through the Saanich Peninsula

My trip to Britain and Belgium is rapidly approaching and I’ve been busy researching, sorting out logistics and walking. A combination of fine weather and flexible hours has allowed me to clock a minimum of 5 miles a day and at least one 15-mile hike per week. The photo above was taken on the one wet outing in mid-April when I practically had the Lochside Trail to myself. On one stretch, normally very popular with cyclists, I counted only seven whizz by in a two-hour period. In contrast during the same period I walked by six deer and hundreds of slugs, the latter of whom took full advantage of the gentle rain to slither about on the grass that lined the footpaths.

This route never gets old

This route never gets old

On my last hike I passed a pair of walkers and we were both so shocked we had to stop and chat. This might sound strange but hikers are a very odd sight on the Lochside Trail. Dog-walkers, joggers and cyclists outnumber us by a thousand to one. In the last seven years I’ve walked this route at least 60 times and I can count on one hand the number of hikers I’ve encountered. In fact other trail users often give me a quizzical look when they spot me approach with a fully laden backpack. Still this is much preferable to the stares I get in the city from those who simply assume I’m homeless. Fortunately the kindred spirits I met that day were heading to England to explore parts of the South West Coast Path and so we had a thoroughly enjoyable chat.

Surprise, my walking plans have changed! Instead of walking Offa’s Dyke I will divide my time between Cheshire/Shropshire/Wales, Yorkshire and the north Norfolk coast. I’m going to base myself in a handful of locations and explore each area on foot. I’ll be visiting some areas for the very first time while others are old haunts I haven’t ventured into for decades.

This new approach is essentially the one I used for my UK visits prior to my LEJOG in 2010. I believe this will be my 17th visit to Britain since 1983 and I’m finding that reasonably priced single rooms are getting thin on the ground. Cheap and cheerful rooms are giving way to luxurious ensuite sanctuaries geared to weekend getaways and not tired walkers looking for one night’s accommodation. I’m not the first to comment on this but I would be interested in hearing your thoughts. I’ve more or less come to the decision that if I do another LEJOG-type walk I will be carrying a tent.

This church is definitely one place I will be visiting again

Christ Church Willaston

In my last article I featured a photo of a church and promised an explanation would be forthcoming. It is of Christ Church Willaston and it will be one of the first stops on my visit. If you’ve followed my blog over the years you will know that I’ve been trying to unravel the mystery surrounding my great-grandfather’s disappearance after the First World War. My research began in earnest in 1996 and it’s been quite a journey. I’ve spent countless hours exploring the streets of north-east London, Windsor, Chester and several villages on the Wirral. I followed in his footsteps on the battlefields surrounding Ypres and hunkered down in Archives across Britain in search of clues as to his whereabouts. Last month the Reverend of Christ Church Willaston confirmed that my great-grandfather is buried in their churchyard. I can scarcely believe that within two weeks my long journey will be over and I can’t help but notice that my feelings are similar to those I experienced the day I walked into John O’Groats.

Christmas Hill & Swan Lake

Floating walkway over Swan Lake

The floating bridge over Swan Lake Nature Sanctuary in Victoria, BC

Last Saturday I had an errand to run and decided to walk home after I was dropped off on the outskirts of Victoria. My improvised route turned what could have been a 6-mile slog along busy roads into a 10-mile excursion through a nature sanctuary and quiet residential streets.

The Swan Lake & Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary is bordered by a highway on one side and a busy arterial road on another. While I have visited Swan Lake in the past this was my first walk up Christmas Hill, astounding really considering I’ve lived here for 41 years!

For many years I admired Christmas Hill and the cows grazing in the pastures beneath it while I sat in a long lineup waiting for a set of traffic lights to change. This intersection was replaced by an overpass in the preparations leading up to the 1994 Commonwealth Games but unfortunately this also led to the green pastures being opened up for development. The grazing cows are long gone but the Garry Oak forest that surrounds the rocky 109m summit of Christmas Hill is intact and includes a network of wonderful walking trails. As you can see by the photos below the 360° views of the southern tip of Vancouver Island are fantastic. Other than the birds and the butterflies I had the summit to myself on this hot Saturday afternoon.

Swan Lake is connected to Christmas Hill by a short trail corridor bounded by residential homes on both sides. At one point the wooded trail opened up and I entered a sunny patch containing dozens and dozens of birds flitting from branch to branch and seemingly unconcerned with my presence. Despite being spoiled for choice I didn’t do a great job of identifying the half-dozen species circling around me, with the exception of noting the handful of big and bold American Robins who seemed just as keen on identifying me.

The 48 hectares that makes up Swan Lake includes marshy areas, woody shrubs and large sections of grasslands. The trail system is highlighted by two floating piers and a floating bridge, the latter of which cuts across the western edge of the lake. The bridge is inhabited by some extremely tame ducks, one feeling comfortable enough to snooze atop the railing as I took its photo from just two feet away. Red-winged Blackbirds and Spotted Towhees were seen and heard on several occasions.

I spent well over an hour at the Lake before cutting across the Lochside Trail and onto residential streets that eventually hooked up to my regular 3-mile route that led me back into the heart of the city. This was definitely one of my best impromptu walks in quite some time and I will not be waiting another 41 years to visit Christmas Hill again!

Extreme Walking in the 19th Century … and other random thoughts

Spotted in Kend and on Twitter (source: The Poke)

Spotted in Kent and on Twitter (source: The Poke)

My Twitter focus is on history and genealogy however from time to time I stumble upon tweets that could be of interest to ramblers. While the Visit Kent folks might prefer that visitors spend a bit more time (and money) in their county I can’t help but appreciate the local sense of humour, even if the London reference has been photoshopped in at a later date.

A far more interesting find was this excellent article on George Wilson – The Blackheath Pedestrian, an extreme walker from the early 18th century. Wilson became well known for taking bets on his walks including one in August 1814 when he successfully walked 96 miles in 24 hours (and finished with 30 minutes to spare). His most (in)famous wager was when he was offered 100 Guineas to walk 1000 miles on Blackheath in just 20 days. To find out how local magistrates and a celebrated elephant become involved you’ll have to read the story.

While I attracted no elephants on this weekends’ walk it was nice to get back on the trail after a series of minor ailments had put a temporary stop to my rambling. I’m still getting to grips with all the aches and pains associated with the other side of 50. The good news is I’ve discovered that a tube of Bengay and a fine single malt can work wonders.

Perhaps not surprisingly my appreciation of whisky and anti-inflammatories has coincided with an appreciation of birds. I’m not sure if this is related to having spent too much time on Twitter but I do admit to becoming increasingly curious as to what all that damned chirping is about when I’m out on my walks. It’s a bit unsettling really. I have nothing against Birders but I really never saw myself as being one. Imagine my surprise then when I forked out $300 for a pair of binoculars that increased my pack weight by a back-numbing 520 grams!

That being said I am very happy with my Vortex Diamondback 8×32 binoculars and I’m seriously considering taking them with me to Britain next year. What were once small blobs of greyish-brown feathers have been transformed into colourful collections of reasonably interesting creatures. If only they would stop flitting about!

Wood Duck (source: Wikipedia)

Wood Duck (source: Wikipedia)

My normal training walk passes by both Blenkinsop Lake and a large stretch of pastureland and so there are lots of previously unidentifiable flying objects to check out. I didn’t take any photographs but in addition to the many bald eagles soaring over the fields I spotted a pair of extremely colourful Wood Ducks at the lake and a sinister looking Turkey Vulture in a field. The former are year-round residents but the latter are only here during the warmer months. While it’s early days yet I hope someday to improve my skills beyond “see the big bird – it’s black and white“.

Oot ‘n Aboot

Summer arrived to southwestern British Columbia this weekend with temperatures topping 28C on Sunday and in doing so breaking the temperature record set in 1953. It’s just as well I chose Saturday for my long walk out to the Peninsula. It’s the same the old route I used to train for my LEJOG and despite me having lost count of how many times I made the journey I never tire of it.

Walking conditions were perfect for the first few hours as there was a gentle breeze that kept the temperature in check. Not surprisingly it seemed like most of Victoria was on the Lochside Trail although most were on bikes rather than on foot. I took my first break at the 4-mile mark where I joined the trail after my walk through the city. I took the opportunity to fill up my water bottle at the fountain that was installed over the winter. It’s a clever bit of kit with three water fountains (one for adults, children and pets) and a separate tap designed specifically for water bottles.

From there I continued over Blenkinsop Lake (lovely as always) and then along the old rail bed where I crossed Royal Oak Drive and into Broadmead. Another quick break was followed by a 45-minute walk to Mattick’s Farm where ice-cream sales were booming. I munched on strawberries and a granola bar before setting off on my favourite stretch of the whole walk which took me through the heart of farming country. When I took my last break at Mitchell’s Farm the breeze had subsided and the temperatures soared.

Despite this I set off with the intention of extending my normal 14-mile walk by an additional 3 miles. The prospect of some excellent vistas and a pint at the Prairie Inn kept me going. I wasn’t disappointed either. The skies were unusually clear and I was able to clearly see three distinct snow-topped mountain ranges. To the east was Mt. Baker in northern Washington State, to the northeast were the Coast Mountains near Vancouver and to the south were the Olympics, on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. I staggered into the pub to celebrate my first 17-mile day in more than a year and after a quick bite caught the bus home.

A new LEJOG blog to follow: I encourage you to check out Grant’s End to End Challenge. Grant Paterson began his LEJOG on April 1 and should now be somewhere on or nearing the Pennine Way. Grant’s raising money for three charities and donations can be made online through his Just Giving page.







The times they are a changin’

I’ve updated my Route page to include the latest estimated walking times generated by the “Where’s the Path” app.  I’m not sure why the times have changed but I’m pleased to say they are less than before and in some cases seem much more realistic.  Of course only time will tell and according to my iPod countdown app that’s in just over 47 days from now.

I continue to check things off my to-do list and deal with all the neccessary tasks that need to be sorted before I leave the country (out-of-country medical insurance, income taxes, etc.).  I’ve determined where my mail drops will be and have purchased some resealable boxes to post my maps in.  I’m going to leave the boxes flat and slip them into the duffle bag (along with my backpack) that I’m checking when I fly to London.

Compiling my Family History notes is taking longer than expected but I’m chipping away at it every week.  I’m spending a day in Southampton prior to the walk and just purchased my return rail ticket from London for the unbelievably low price of £2.50!  That’s only 20 pence more than my tube fare to London Waterloo.  I booked it through

I’m off on another training walk this Saturday.  Last time it rained steadily for several hours and so I had a good chance to test out my wet weather gear.  My rain pants, although not gortex, worked very well and I didn’t overheat despite the mild temperatures.  My hat on the other hand did not meet expectations and has been cut from the team.  I’ve decided to use a baseball cap instead as I have about a dozen to choose from.  The forecast for this weekend is sunny and mild (12-13 degrees) and the cherry blossoms are blooming all over the city … Spring has almost sprung.

Last but not least … best of luck to Chris Wilkinson who began his epic coast-line walk today.  You can follow his adventure on his 4 Million Steps blog.

A Merry Victorian Christmas

A Victorian Christmas

A Victorian Christmas

A Movember to Remember
The competition in this year’s Movember contest was fierce and the judging was close, but I won by a hair and raised nearly $250 in the process. Thanks to all my family and friends who pledged on my behalf.

LEJOG preparation
With most of my map and route work complete (but to be closely reviewed in February) I’ve turned my attention to my family history research. I’ll have limited time to visit the cities and towns along the way so I need to make sure I’m properly prepared. I’ve made extensive use of Google Streetview to ascertain whether my ancestor’s homes are still standing so that I can avoid the disappointment of traipsing around streets only to discover that my great-parents mid-terrace home has been replaced by a Tesco’s. This tool has saved me a lot of time although I must admit I was still disappointed to discover that the Barnet Union Workhouse was torn down as recently as 2003 and replaced with a parking lot. My Great-great-great-grandfather, William Henry Clifford, died in the workhouse infirmary in 1914. From the photos on the workhouse website I would have thought that the buildings could have fulfilled some useful purpose?

Training Update
I completed another 17-mile plod out to the peninsula, this time wearing just about everything I will be carrying with me to England. The temperatures were hovering around the freezing mark but the snow held off and I pretty much had the trail to myself. I’ve decided to add a pair of light gloves to my packing list as I suspect the coastal path could be cool in April. The temps are now back to their normal daytime average (6C – 7C) but I already miss the cold, crisp and sunny week we enjoyed at the beginning of December.

It’s Wee and it’s XP

HP Mini

HP Mini Netbook

I realize many LEJOG’rs have blogged from their phones but as a touch-typist I can’t imagine maintaining this site using one finger, especially after a 20-mile walk and a couple of pints. The little HP Mini pictured above was purchased in November. It is undoubtedly a luxury item, at 1 kg it accounts for 10% of my overall pack weight, but I think it will earn its keep, and it cost me next to nothing … only $199 (shipping included)!

The HP Mini is your bog-standard Windows XP netbook and this particular model was state-of-the-art about a year ago. It has an 8.9″ screen, 1.6MHz Atom N270 processor, 1GB of RAM, a 16GB solid-state drive and wireless connectivity. It includes a bunch of software, most of which I’ve uninstalled and replaced with lightweight portable apps. Most of the time I’ll be surfing or emailing but I have installed Family Tree Maker 2010 so that I can look up details on my 600+ ancestors when I don’t have access to Google Chrome is my browser of choice because it’s lightweight and supports Google Gears. The new mobile version of Where’s the Path uses Gears to display OS maps when you don’t have an internet connection (which is what I’m doing in the photo above). The trick is to access the maps when you have connectivity so that WTP can cache them for offline use at a later date. I haven’t done extensive tests but what I’ve tested so far has worked. I’m using paper maps for my LEJOG but as you can see low cost electronic maps, with or without connectivity, are a reality.

The last bit of kit
I just purchased a replacement for my 6-year old digital camera. After much deliberating I chose a Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZR1, a compact digital weighing in at just 150 grams. My old Canon Powershot was a great camera but it was three times the size, weighed 500 grams and drained 4 “AA” batteries at an alarming rate. The 12 mega-pixel Panny has a 25mm-200mm optical zoom, is solidly built and has a very intuitive menu system. The battery life is fantastic and the tiny battery charger weighs only 50 grams.

The reviews from the experts are very positive, the one criticism being poor picture quality in low-light conditions (ISO 800 or greater). I found this to be true if you are indoors and not using a flash on a poorly lit subject, however the photo above was taken without a flash and looks pretty good to me. I plan to use the camera outdoors most of the time and so I’m not too worried. I’m really looking forward to taking advantage of the wide-angle lens.

A Capital Idea
I decided to test the camera out by being a “tourist in your own town” and managed to complete a 10-mile walk in the process. It was a rather dull day and by 3pm the light was fading fast but this ensured I would test the camera in very poor light (and with the flash turned off). Overall I’m very pleased with the results and I hope you enjoy the images of BC’s capital city (the gallery is in the post below). Victoria is a youngster compared to towns and cities in the UK but she does have one of the finest collections of heritage buildings in North America. These days Vancouver, our younger sibling, likes to flash it around a bit but in the 19th century Victoria was Queen City of the Golden West, second only to San Francisco on the west coast. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Workhorses and Workhouses

It’s Movember and in addition to growing a ‘stache in aid of Prostate Cancer research I’ve been busy fine-tuning my route and dealing with LEJOGistics … who says guys can’t multitask?  This blog update is a long one so here goes …

Maps update
A big thank you goes out to those of you who’ve left comments or emailed regarding my maps dilemma. Your offers of help are greatly appreciated. Yesterday I was contacted by a generous fellow walker who has volunteered to forward a parcel to me somewhere along my route. Thank you Brian!

I can now concentrate on reducing the weight of my 44 maps from 5kg to 2.5kg or less. I made the difficult decision to trim my maps but the ends do justify the means, despite the fact that my great-grandfather, Walter Cunningham, a former Ordnance Survey foreman might be turning in his grave! To date I’ve reduced a handful of OS Explorer maps from 120 grams to 40 grams each. The plan is to trim only some of my maps, namely those covering Land’s End to Barnstaple and Loch Lomand to John O’Groats.

Route update
I’ve reduced the number of walking days from 72 to 71 by eliminating a small section of Hadrian’s Wall. I’ve walked this section a couple of times in the past and so I’ve opted for a shortcut through Haltwhislte. My Route page now includes links to individual Google Maps. I’ll now begin work on a single Google Map covering my entire route. It appears stitching together my 71 individual Google maps needs to be done manually as I’ve found no easy way of concatenating them.

Training update
I’ve completed a couple of 17-mile walks since my last update. At this point my goal is to maintain my conditioning levels until I leave. My feet are in good shape although my knees and hips are not always as happy. As I get closer to leaving I will add some steep hill climbs to the mix but for now my long plods to the peninsula will have to do.

R&R (Rest and Research)
I’ve also started looking at places I might like to visit on my rest days. I’m especially interested in towns and villages associated with my family over the years. Cullompton in Devon is a candidate as it was the birthplace of my Lewis ancestors in the early 19th century. It looks as though I can catch a train from Barnstable to Tiverton Junction and then walk the 3 miles to Cullompton.

A day off in Gloucester is also a possibility but finding the exact birthplace of my great-great-great Grandfather, William Henry Clifford, is proving difficult. Alternatively I might carry on to Bridgnorth and take a day off to visit the Acton Scott Historic Working Farm. Most family trees include many ‘Ag Labs’ (agricultural labourers) and mine is no exception. As a result I find myself drawn to places where I can get a feel for what life would have been like for them. I confess I’m also addicted to the Victorian Farm television series that is currently being aired here in British Columbia.

While life was difficult on the farm it was no easier for some of my ancestors who moved to London in the middle of the 19th century. Some of my relatives were gardeners and domestic servants who struggled to survive and were, on occasion, forced to take refuge in a workhouse. Until recently my understanding of workhouses was limited to their portrayal in Dicken’s novels and so I’ve made a point of reading more about the workhouse experience. Grim reading indeed. I’m thinking of making a special trip to the National Trust Workhouse at Southwell. If anyone has visited the Workhouse or Acton Scott I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts.

Beyond Belfast
So here I was thinking that combining a long walk with genealogy research might be somewhat unique when my girlfriend tells me there’s a guy on the news talking about his latest book, Beyond Belfast. Will Ferguson’s new book about walking the Ulster Way while uncovering family secrets now sits atop my ‘in progress’ stack of must-reads. The similarities are somewhat eerie: 1) he’s Canadian, 2) he’s the descendant of a Barnardo Boy and most amazing of all, 3) he’s the nephew of an energetic and very funny woman who I had the pleasure of leading on two walking holidays in England.

Home Children
Gordon Brown’s statement early last week that his government will issue an apology to Home Children resulted in a flurry of news coverage in Canada. As I alluded to in the previous paragraph I too am a descendant of a Barnardo boy. My great-grandfather Herbert Clifford (whom I’m dedicating my LEJOG walk to) was sent to Canada in 1904 and worked on a variety of farms in southern Ontario. My intention has always been to weave his story into my LEJOG blog and in light of recent events I feel even more compelled to do so.

Over 100,000 children were sent to Canada in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. An estimated 11% of Canadians, that’s more than 3,000,000 people, have descended from these children. Most Canadians are unaware of their home child lineage as it was often covered up by families due to the negative attitudes of the day. I only discovered that I was one myself earlier this year and only after a couple of years of relentless digging for the truth.

I’m not a big fan of belated apologies, especially when they are a century overdue and judged by a society that has little understanding of what life was really like in those days. That said if those home children who are still with us today feel an apology is due then so be it. In Herbert’s case I feel had he not been taken in by Barnardo’s he may not have survived. And I know for fact that he was grateful for the fresh start that the orphanage afforded him. Most of the news agencies have jumped on the apology bandwagon however an editorial in our local paper provided a more thoughtful response, notwithstanding it’s rather stinging conclusion:

When British Prime Minister Gordon Brown apologizes for the children his country sent away, he might also apologize for those who were not given the chance to get out.