‘I can see a pair of eyes ahead’ I heard Helen say. Already rather spooked by the perfect darkness of the towpath apart from the little circle of light cast by my head torch, this rather casual statement filled me with cold fear. Who, or what else was walking near the canal at two o’clock in the morning?

Following our aborted attempt to walk home from work to Helen’s home in January we had decided to do it again; only this time we were going to literally walk home after work instead of walking at the weekend. We both showed up in the office as usual on Friday (after dropping my car off at Helen’s), put in a full work day then changed and walked out the door with everyone else at 5pm.

But while our colleagues all peeled off to their cars or to catch various buses, we headed across the car park to the River Trent and started our much longer commute home.

Leaving the office on Friday…

As before, the route required very little navigation, following the River Trent to Trent Lock where we would pick up the Trent and Mersey Canal. The first stretch, past the Embankment towards Beeston Marina, was pleasant walking if a little busy, as there were a fair few dog walkers and cyclists taking advantage of a nice evening.

Beeston Weir

We made sure we ate regularly- a few mouthfuls every hour and a quick sit down for something more substantial or a drink every two hours. We were self-sufficient as we knew we would be walking partway through the night, and it was good to be able to sit and have a coffee.

We reached Trent Lock in the evening, and I was glad it was still light as there is a bit of route finding to find the large bridge over the Trent which gives access to the Trent and Mersey canal. A tea stop near Shardlow Marina was spent on a bench opposite several narrow boats moored for the night and it was fun to spot where they had come from whilst bats swooped and glided above us.

Trent Lock

After Shardlow the darkness gradually encroached and the shadows lengthened until we were forced to break out our head torches. We could hear strains of music which we realised must be coming from the Download Festival near Castle Donington- at one point we could see its lights on the horizon.

Luckily the pair of eyes Helen spotted turned out to be nothing more sinister than a ginger cat that jumped onto a narrow boat as we passed, settling down for the night. We were as quiet as possible when passing stretches where moored boats loomed out of the darkness, but I did see a face peering curiously at us from a tiny round window.

A couple of times we had to crawl under fallen trees blocking the tow path, presumably brought down by the strong winds a few days ago.

Crawling under trees- all in a night’s work!!

As before, it seemed to take an age to reach Stenson Lock, passing by the still, silent and serious forms of several night fishermen, but reach it we did and took advantage of a bench for a final cuppa. There’s something rather eerie about sitting drinking coffee in the middle of nowhere in the darkness…

We girded our loins for the final push and entered Willington by way of what Helen affectionally calls ‘dog shit alley’ (I think every village has one). This usually pleasant path between metal fences felt as though it had grown to three times its usual length and felt quite sinister in the dark, so we were glad to leave it to cross the playing fields and reach home.

We arrived at 3am after clocking up 25.5 miles; challenge completed for what must be one of the longest ever commutes! It was great fun but for some reason we both felt really knackered for a few days after- it wasn’t particularly tough walking so I guess it was probably the combination of a full working day and a very late night!

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