It is achieved, as the headline said when at last Kaiser Bill’s waxed moustache stayed upright for an entire military parade. My own march ended at 4.25 pm on Friday last, 25 July, when I came up to the inner breakwater of the harbour at Shoreham-by-Sea where any further progress was halted, even had I not wished it after 615 consecutive miles since 1 June.
There were good miles and bad miles, sad miles and glad miles, up and even some down miles, wet and hot miles, town and country miles, tarmac and muddy miles. Miles and miles, in fact, but never a mile without interest. And the weather was merciful in this dubious summer: only two soakings to the skin in 47 walking days. It seemed entirely appropriate, on the one day of unremitting rain, to be walking down a country lane called Bleak Street.
In between the usual rural pursuits of being chased by herds of curious cows, possibly mad, and falling off unyielding farm gates, there were yet more memorable moments: disturbing in a deserted and overgrown orchard a very large, very somnolent, very male bovine, who came to his feet and displayed the biggest pair of curved horns I have ever seen off a yak. Perhaps he was a yak. He stood up; I stood down. And the Netherton canal tunnel in the Black Country was an underground highpoint or lowpoint: one and three quarter miles long and dead straight (“light at the end of the tunnel” takes on a new meaning when it’s the tiniest of pinpricks initially); somewhere past the halfway mark my torch bulb failed, of course. Emerging into the sunlight, I felt I’d been to Hades and back. Later, I was to yomp through the outliers of the Glastonbury Festival, which lay across my route. With Foreign Legion-style hat, backpack and burgeoning beard, I had no trouble at all with security marshals: my garb gave me perfect cover as an ageing hippy, and never an eyebrow was raised.
It was a memorable expedition into a forgotten and secret England, a distant rural land: ancient green roads like Kissmedown Lane and Toadsnest Lane, along which Charles II himself may well have ridden, lonely tracks where young deer leap up from the long grass ahead and a snoozling snake is to be sidestepped. Many birds, buzzards, herons, ballerina-style wagtails, kept me company throughout my walk, and in Hornblotton Lane the air was alive with thousands upon thousands of meadow brown butterflies flying up from the long grass, disturbed by my feet. The real England survives quietly in background; who can doubt it, walking through places called Nempnett Thrubwell and Haselbury Plucknett?
Somewhere after the halfway mark, Tina in Cambridge received a kind message of condolence on my death, the news of which, like Mark Twain’s, had been much exaggerated. It assured her that I was now treading the Path of Glory. This made me very happy, as I trod mine through much mud and considerable cowdung. This honest confusion put a spring into my step, as of course did all your combined generosity in supporting me and the real end of this walk: Macmillan Cancer Support.
As the Monarch’s Way shadowed Charles’s escape route, my admiration for him grew with each mile. He was 21, and his life was on the line. He never lost his nerve, under unimaginable pressures. He showed judgement, courage and humour in equal measure, and summed up people and situations with pretty unerring accuracy. Yes, he had luck, and so did I; and yes, sometimes he had a horse. Whatever he became later (“all those women! “), he remained extraordinarily resolute and determined for those six weeks of flight. I had a strong fellow-feeling for him as I moved through the land in a fortunately much less stressful progress.
I couldn’t have done any of this without Tina, whose regular appearances with the clean shirts and the new maps, and much else, and with transport from and to each finishing point on many of the days, made all the difference between happiness and misery. And I couldn’t and wouldn’t have done it without your generous support. I’ll aim to let everybody know in due course the final figure raised by my putting left and right feet in front of each other somewhat more than a million times......... Thank you all so much.
Stop Press 28/02/2013: Tony tells us that he has achieved the grand total of £11,233.70, which is equivalent to £18.26 for each of the 615 miles walked. Proceeds go to Macmillan Cancer Support. Congratulations Tony and very well done!