Monday, 19 July 2010


We did it!
And a fine time was had by all!You've already got a good idea of how things happened, if you've read Theresa's update posts from the day itself.
This is how I remember it . . .

Up nice and early; a cool shower to wake myself; and already a potential obstacle: I'd got barely any sleep in the night, partly through excitement, partly through fear of oversleeping in the morning. Off out to the city centre . . . Sean phones me to tell me that his train is arriving at Moor Street, not New Street; that means he's stayed Friday night in Stratford on Avon, at his sister's house. I suggest he stays on the train to S
now Hill, which is a great deal more convenient for me (that's where I get off the tram) and it's a shorter walk from there to our starting point for the walk, too.

Just outside the station I buy a couple of cans of Red Bull, which is supposedly energy-giving. With all the sleep problems I'd had, I drink the first straight away. Bleeeurgh, what a horrible drink! For some reason I had expected it to be milk-based. Sean arrives on time, and we head off for the start of our walk.

I send a "good luck" text to Sparky, who should, by now, be over half an hour into his walk. He's overslept somewhat, he tells me by return text.

Martin arrives at our start point, and we set off, 19 minutes early. I have to make a short diversion to walk a few yards on the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal, so that the walk will cover part of four canals, whence the name for the mission. Martin and Sean find this very amusing.
The weather at this stage is pretty well perfect - sunny, with a bit of breeze, but not too warm.

We get to the Galton Valley, and pass the stretch that's usually deep in mud after wet weather - and the weather has been wet this week! Surprisingly, the really muddy bit is only a few yards long. I tell Martin and Sean that we've passed what I had warned them was likely to be the worst stretch of the walk. This seems to cheer them up a bit. It doesn't last.
We come to one of the few stretches of canal where we have a choice of which towpath to walk on. I suggest the right-hand towpath, because there will be fewer fishermen on it. There are a few, but almost none on the other side. The path we choose is poorly-maintained. And it starts to rain. Heavily, and horizontally.

We switch sides and, when we get to Dudley Port, Sean and I leave the canal to provision ourselves. There are loads of police there: apparently there's and EDL rally in Dudley today.

We resume our walk. The weather eases somewhat; we get to Tipton - near enough half way to Wolverhampton - where we take a short break; while we are there, Sparky calls me to tell me that the batteries on his mobile phone are running low, so he won't be contacting me much for the rest of the day.

We get through Coseley Tunnel without any problems, on to the most depressing part of the walk though I am heartened to see that a swan I had seen several times - but not on my last couple of walks - is now accompanied by several cygnets; all are stock-still in the middle of the canal. We take another short break, soon afterwards. Progress seems to be a bit slow: as we approach Dixon Street Bridge, I point out that this is just one mile from Wolverhampton. I'm not wearing my glasses so can't see that the towpath is blocked off here. So we take a diversion, onto street level, and we are immediately overwhelmed by traffic noise. Eventually we make it to Wolverhampton Top Lock, the half way point on our walk.
The weather is much better now: sunny, but not too warm. Martin told me later that he thought I looked "unwell." I drink the other can of Red Bull, and look forward to the rest of the walk: beginning with a long, downhill stretch as the canal passes through a flight of 22 locks in a little under 2 miles, before joining the far more scenic Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal.

I'd done that stretch - Wolverhampton to Penkridge - earlier in the week, wending texts to myself at every significant landmark. I knew that we wouldn't match Tuesday's time for that first stretch - I'd done it in 35 minutes then, but the usual time for it is more like 42. We do it in 39.

For the rest of the walk, we better Tuesday's times for every section. Sean tells us about his adventures, watching the England football team in away games, including one in Ukraine that tickled me. He'd been taken to a bar, full of Ukrainians, one of whom took him under his wing. This chap showed Sean a photograph of a stunningly good-looking young woman, in army uniform, holding a machine gun. "You like to see?" he asked. "Oooh, yes!" said Sean. So the chap took Sean back to his flat - which wasn't far away - and showed him the machine gun.

We make good time to Penkridge, and arrive around 8pm.

When we get to The Boat, we shake hands, and I tell Sean and Martin Susie Hewer's motto: "Pain is temporary - pride is forever." Sean looks like he needs some convincing.

At last, a sit-down and a drink, unpressured by time - we'd earlier stopped for a drink at The Fox And Anchor, a smashing pub at Coven Heath, 3 hours to the south - and for me - and Sean and Martin - a real feeling of exhilaration.

Before long, Sparky arrives. I hand him my mobile phone so that he can call Tommy Toes.

It's worth reminding people that without Tommy the walk never would have happened, and, in his role as Mission Nutritionist, he certainly helped me a great deal.

Sparky can't access Tommy's mobile number - he can't remember it. Not that I'm complaining - I've got loads of numbers saved on my mobile, but can't remember any.

By this time Sean's sister, Nicola, and her boyfriend, John, have arrived; John takes this photograph of us.
To the untutored eye, it may appear a little bit out of focus, but I can assure you that Martin (on the left), Sean (Second from left) and Sparky (on the right) looked just like that to me on Saturday evening.

Nicola and John took Sean home; Sparky ordered a taxi to take him back to Stoke - for £36 - and Martin and I left to catch our train.

Which we missed.

So we asked Sparky if he could put us up for the night, and, much to our relief, he did.

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