Having thoroughly failed to complete last year’s Wilmot Wander-, a 32 mile cross-country circuit round Derby- Sue persuaded me that a rematch was in order so we set about plotting the route on OS maps and memorising it as much as we could. I decided to bring in the big guns and asked Helen if we could borrow Doris the GPS as the route maps and description provided are rather vague at best!

As I haven’t done that much long distance walking lately I felt horribly under prepared and seriously doubted my ability to complete this. After all 32 miles in one day is a big ask. Driving to the start I relived the sheer horror of last year‘s disaster- repeatedly getting lost, endless slippery slidey mud and hours of unrelenting rain…

Parking up, I hauled my gear to the Chaddesden Scouts Hut, found Sue and got a coffee. This was Sue’s first challenge walk for some time as one of her dogs had a serious knee operation last year so she had her own doubts about completing. The event has an unusual start in that entrants are sent off in batches every two minutes- as Sue had entered us both as a team we had the same start time- 7:02am- nice and early.

As we set off into the darkness, I was relieved to discover that unlike last year it wasn’t icy. Remembering our previous mistake after crossing the park, we avoided getting lost and despite sliding around on the first muddy path to Locko Park and its large lake we realised that we were already well ahead of last year’s time.

All photos are courtesy of Sue as I didn’t take any!!

Unfortunately we didn’t get a spectacular sunrise today but we did get a cloudy, mild and dry, if windy, day- almost perfect winter walking conditions. We helped ourselves to chocolate biscuits at Stanley before joining the Midshires (or should that be Mudshires) Way to Morley and Duffield. I had walked this with Helen some months ago so recognised parts of it which came in handy. There is a path through woodland I had been dreading as last year it was so flooded we had to detour up a bank, but although still very muddy and slidey it was nowhere near as bad and we just had to pick our way around the edge.

Feeling good!

As we had such an early start we were constantly being overtaken by people- I have no problem being passed by runners but there is something disconcerting about having fellow walkers stride effortlessly past, leaving you in their mud…

Although Helen had kindly plotted the route into Doris I couldn’t work out how to get her to show it to us, but she proved her worth in showing us which path to take at junctions and whether we were sticking to the footpath. Along with Sue’s printed and high-lighted OS map this kept us nicely on track and allowed us the time to indulge ourselves with a cup of coffee at the Duffield checkpoint before making our way towards Bunkers Hill.

A friendly goat

This was another part of the route I was concerned about as this was where it really started to fall apart for us before- but unlike last year visibility was good and we could clearly see the outline of the hill with a line of walkers snaking up it, so we made a beeline for it, climbing through energy sapping sticky mud that stuck to our shoes, before dropping down into Quarndon with its famous well that was visited by Daniel Defoe don’t you know…

Daniel Defoe’s Well

As we left Quarndon on a track which led uphill through an open stretch of countryside with good views, I reflected that my mistake last year had cost us dearly so kept a close look out for the tiny gate we had to take next to the farm- no muddy field detour for us this year!

We had seen Mackworth water tower looming on the horizon for the last few miles, and now we climbed up to it, dropping to the road and the next checkpoint. I was feeling quite depleted so got out my sandwiches- the checkpoints offer sweets and biscuits as well as welcome hot drinks so we knew we needed to carry more substantial fare. My socks were soaked and rubbing my feet so I changed them- I decided against putting a dressing on the blister that had formed as my feet looked as though they had been in the bath for two weeks so there was no way any dressing would stay on.

Typical underfoot conditions!

This was where we had left Elaine last year, and as I scoffed sandwiches and slurped coffee I was amazed at how different we felt- last year we limped in, defeated, knowing we were last and well behind time, thoroughly pissed off and knackered- this year we strode away full of confidence, knowing that there were still a few people behind us and still feeling relatively good.

Last year we managed to get lost almost immediately after leaving the checkpoint but not this year… I even managed not to fall over as we slithered our way to the outskirts of Mickleover where a stretch of welcome road walking awaited us.

As we left the roads for fields, we reminisced about our progress last year, when it had been dark by this point and on reaching the road to the Toyota Factory we had had enough and were at breaking point… we saluted the spot where we were ‘rescued’ and continued on down the road to the checkpoint, narrowly avoiding being taken out by three youths on quad bikes.

Enjoying coffee and celebrating not giving up this year!

Sitting down sipping coffee at the checkpoint, two of the volunteers revealed themselves to be our rescuers from last year, adding ‘you look totally different this year!’ Leaving the checkpoint I said to Sue ‘I’ve got a good feeling about this’ as apart from blisters (me) and aching legs (both of us) we still felt strong and it was still daylight…

… which was a good thing as we had to run across the busy A38 which was easier said than done! Approaching Findern we passed an impressive house where Sue had been told Edwina Curry once lived (Helen since confirmed that this is true). There was a grey haired man in the field walking his dog, who Sue was convinced was John Major but it sadly wasn’t.

About to cross the A38

I know the next stretch along the Trent and Mersey canal as I have walked it several times with Helen; at Stenson Lock a lady told us to keep our eyes out for a black swan, which seemed surprisingly tame. Leaving the lock I saw three runners closing in fast and I expected them to pass us but they disappeared, leaving us to speculate whether they had needed an enforced stop or had detoured along the road.

I expected the canal path to be horrendous but apart from being really slippery in places it wasn’t too bad, and after donning head torches we were able to pick up the pace, running the last few hundred yards into the checkpoint at Swarkestone three minutes before the cut off time. They weren’t too concerned and just asked if we felt able to carry on walking for the last 5 miles, to which we replied yes, as we still felt okay apart from the usual aches and blisters.

Still feeling strong and still daylight!

The last section is along a tarmac cycle trail which makes for easy walking- I changed into my running shoes which made a huge difference as it took much of the pressure off my blisters. The cycle path is unlit, and as it passes through some of the less savoury parts of Derby we both said that had we been on our own we would have felt quite scared… at one point three rather menacing youths passed us going the other way; minutes later we heard male voices, and, glancing round, noticed three figures following us. Feeling increasingly nervous and readying ourselves to shine head torches into eyes if necessary, we kept snatching nervous glances until we realised that instead of being followed by thugs they were actually the runners who had been behind us at Stenson Lock! As they marched past they told us they had detoured to the pub which explained their sudden disappearance earlier.

Celebrating with soup!

Passing Pride Park we knew we were nearly home, and it was a relief to see people waiting for us at the Scout Hut. I think we were last, but devouring bowls of soup we didn’t care- we felt on a high to have actually beaten the walk and get our certificates, particularly as our GPS showed we had covered 33 miles!

Wilmot Wander-1 Steph-1!! Not sure that a best of three is necessary…

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