Right now I am hobbling around the house with a fairly immobile left knee. It will take my weight – just – which makes getting up and down the stairs uncomfortable but possible. Lying on a bed with a laptop requires me to physically lift and move my left leg. I will not be doing any tap dancing anytime soon.
But then I can’t tap dance anyway and it’ll probably be much better in the morning. What have I done to injure it? I joined the Ramblers.
Other than my two Guiding walking weekends and a climb up Esja, I only went out walking once last year, and that was a fairly short one on a nice spring evening after work. Once. So this year, having stumbled across them entirely by accident, I decided to join a local chapter of the Ramblers, which would provide motivation to get out more often.
The Ramblers do have a certain reputation and a part of me is embarrassed to admit in public that I joined. On the other hand, I don’t exactly know what that reputation is, other than that they tend to be older people and seem to be a bit nerdy about walking. A few years ago, they noticed the high average age and various younger groups have started. I joined one of these younger groups for three reasons.
1) They’re younger – my own age range, 20s to 30s
2) Their website was much better than the regional groups
3) Because they’re younger and not populated by retired people, their walks are almost invariably at weekends instead of during the working week
4) You don’t have to phone a total stranger and request to join their walk; you can just turn up
So today, off I went to Ashmore to meet them.
Ashmore, it turns out, is a place my parents took me when I was a kid. Many a Sunday afternoon I spent feeding the ducks at the big round pond in the middle of Ashmore, which was where we met and initially, I admit, I wasn’t sure how welcome I felt. Gradually the group formed, six or so members and four or so new people. Or it may have been five and five. Surrounded by other new people, I felt more like I fitted in and off we went. Ramblers? There was no rambling. It was a route march.
We followed the route I’ve attempted to draw on the map above, which Google decided to interpret as a polygon rather than as a line. Well, approximately that route. Being without a map or my GPS logger, I just tried to draw an approximate map by guesswork.
We crossed a field, climbed a hill and I struggled. I’m bad at going up hills. I mean, I can get up them but I go at my own pace which is a crawl, with a stop every six or so steps. But today I was walking with a group and they went on ahead, mostly. To be fair, they waited at the top and we had a water stop and I more or less got my breath back. But I was very aware that I was the unfit one struggling along at the back and it only got worse. They keep up an absolutely relentless pace. There’s no opportunity whatsoever to stop to take photos unless you want to be left behind and for quite a bit of it, I was struggling to keep anywhere near with them as it was. No chance to stop and ooh over the pair of buzzards swooping over the hills. No chance to aah at the gamboling lambs. I got the impression that those few stops made were more to let me catch up than because they actually wanted to stop. But whenever they did stop for me – every mile or so! – they at least let me get my breath back before we went on. So often people will wait for you and as soon as you’re within ten paces of them, they go off again. We crossed the road to the airfield where I think most of us genuinely believed we were going to have to scurry across the runway. But all we did was go through the hedge and walk up the flat green bit (not the runway! Just a bit of grass separating the airfield from the road, I think) to the car park before going out onto the road. Down the muddy path, through Compton Abbas, up the hill, across the hill and back via the woods.
It was muddier than anyone expected – the path barely passable in several places, it having rained heavily since the walk leader recce’d it. One path, downhill mercifully, was just like a river of mud and chalk and clay. A miniature stream in Compton Abbas had clearly recently taken up residence on the path and the hill was so muddy it looked like a herd of cows had been up there recently.
They were all pretty friendly – I had a chat with most of them as we went, on subjects as diverse as being a cereal nerd (don’t ask. Just don’t. Unless you want to tell Josh Widdicombe that hotels don’t serve Cornflakes from the Variety Packs), how best to manage long thick hair, whether offices should have radios, people it turns out we are not mutually acquainted with and sheep farmers’ opinions of Cadair Idris. No one knew what the bumps on the hillside where – I thought they looked like they might be the trolls from Frozen, someone else thought they were ancient yellow ants’ nests. I haven’t found the right words to get Google to understand what I mean yet either. We stopped for lunch and having overheated within ten minutes of leaving and carrying all my layers for five miles, I promptly froze and didn’t really feel like eating most of my lunch. I still haven’t drunk the hot chocolate and since that was made with the nice powder from the hotel in Germany, I’m going to have to reheat it and drink it tomorrow.
I would have enjoyed it immensely if it wasn’t for the hills and the relentless pace. By the time we reached the outskirts of Ashmore, a village so small I can’t believe it even has outskirts, and climbed another steep and also long hill, I was really struggling. My leg muscles had had enough and it really, really wasn’t helped by the muddy (and slightly uphill) field we had to trek across next. Wherever you put your foot it moved, either to sink a tiny bit in the mud or just to slide a little bit. Not enough to risk slipping or falling over but enough to make it absolutely impossible for me to keep up their pace. We’d done probably seven and a half miles, a lot of it uphill, by this point. I was getting tired, my legs were getting tired, my patience with uneven ground and too-fast-groups was running out and I was tired of being half a mile behind everyone else. I was so, so glad that at the top of that incessant slope was the road, which we just had to follow back to the duckpond. I don’t think I could physically have walked any further. I’m well-accustomed to my boots so there were no blisters or sore feet but my legs ached and my left knee felt like someone had removed the joint and put it back in backwards. On the flat I could keep up easily but I was limping about as much as you’d expect for someone with a backwards knee joint. It was only about eight miles, which is a distance I can cope with ok at my own pace.
There’s a walk at Lulworth next week which I planned to go on. But previous experience is that Lulworth and surroundings are very hilly and I’m not entirely sure whether I want to go and be left struggling at the back a second week in a row. On the other hand, practice makes perfect and I have gone to the effort of joining the Ramblers – proud owner of membership card and another 15% off at Cotswold, to go with whatever discount I get from Girlguiding (I thought 20% but I’ve never succeeded in getting more than 15%). We’ll see. I’ve got a week to decide, and for my injured knee to recover.