Tuesday, 17 July 2012


Having thought through the idea of walking from London to Portsmouth, sounded out my brother, looked at maps, zoomed in on Google Earth and talked to the statue fund raising committee, this is definitely going to happen.

We need to arrive in Portsmouth by the evening of August 9th, which means leaving London on Sunday 5th. Day one will be six hours of pavements, taking all day to shrug off the sprawling 'urban-ness' of London. Sunday is a good day to start, as devoid of office workers and eager shoppers, we should pass through Soho, Pall Mall, Sloane Square, the Kings Road and Putney High Street without too much bumping and boring. And we won't be short of choice should we fancy a Grande, skinny double shot, Macchiato with a sprinkle of cinnamon along the way.
After that, it will be a mix of parkland, bridleways, footpaths and country lanes with a decent hill or two to climb and we need to be properly attired.

I imagine Nicholas and Smike didn’t dwell too long on the lack of Gortex breathable fabric, Himalayan walking poles, perfectly balanced trekking backpacks and lightweight kagools to speed them on their journey. Dickens was an inveterate walker himself, often covering 15 miles in one night and in the damp London air, a thick woolen cloak covering a tail coat, waistcoat, starched collar and cravat would have been de-rigeur.
His great great grandsons have other ideas. In any case, there is nothing more exciting than visiting a specialist shop, full to the brim with ‘how could I have ever lived without one of these’ hanging from rack, shelf and mannequin.
If fishing is your game, emporiums with every type of rod, reel, line, float, lure, fly and hook wait for you to bite. For golfers, the pro shop is crammed with drivers, wedges, putters, yardage calculators, tees and jumpers that would not look out of place in a 1970’s episode of ‘A question of Sport’. If, like me, you enjoy getting out on the water, than a Chandlery is right up there with GPS units, foul weather clothing, sacrificial anodes, reels of rope, fenders, twee fender covers, plastic wine goblets and Breton caps with ‘Skipper’ embroidered in gold above the peak.

For walkers, it’s the same and a visit to Snow & Rock can get you kitted out for an assault on the north face of the Eiger. Ice axes, crampons, climbing harnesses, belays, hefty boots, tents that can be sited on a mere whiff of a ledge at 5,000’ and sleeping bags that would have stopped Evans from ‘going outside for a while’ are all there, seducing you to spend.
Footwear is now much more than trying on a shoe, wiggling your toes and heading to the till. My feet were measured length wise, width wise, the foot arch studied and my posture analyzed before the expert dude (they are always dudes, the next Ranulph Fiennes, in these shops) went off to make his selection.
With clumpy boot attached, there’s a handy assault course of inclines and ‘rocky paths’ (made from plastic lumps) to battle over. The incline lasts all of two paces before one is back to the safety of the shop floor, but having taken on the challenge, we review the result.
Some slight slippage at the heel and a minor rub at the toe and it’s insole time. In Dolcis, this used to be a slim bit of rubber that helped them flog you an ill-fitting pair of school shoes but in a hiking shop ready for the roof of the world, it’s more specialist. Obviously.
I get the issue of collapsing arches explained to me and by the end of the pitch, it seems like a sound idea. Heck, the boots with their breathable fabric, supported soles, bouncy air filled heels and hi tec lacing systems are a bargain at £160, so two small insoles seem a snip at £49. Especially as they are bespoke, trimmed to your unique shape at a high tec workbench. Then there’s the breathable shirts, the lightweight quick dry trousers, the mid layer fleece and the over jacket in case the British Summer lives up to expectations.
The socks bring clothing technology to a whole new level and the combination of Merino wool, padded panels, anti-blister support pads and sweat reducing weave should get me to Guadalupe, never mind Godalming. But if you thought one pair would do the trick for our five day preamble, think again. Duddie Fiennes recommends a pair a day. At £25 a pair.
Then there’s the back pack. Smike would have had all their meager provisions wrapped in a large hanky knotted at the end of a stout stick and according to the book, their thirst was quenched from a tin of milk mixed with Rum that they carried. For us, it’s a bright red perfectly balanced waterproof number with enough zips to make an ardent punk happy. And in one of them, it will be Red Bull and a nugget of Kendal Mint Cake that will keep us pacing
Maybe we should have simply valued the cost of all the kit and made that our donation to our two worthy causes, but where’s the challenge in that? Besides, my brother and I are adamant that we will tip a nod to the 19th century as we spend our five days walking through 21st century England.
We've decided to wear top hats and if you donate, we'll doff our toppers in your general direction. Who knows, it may start a whole new trend when we walk down the Kings Road.

TO SUPPORT THE NATIONAL LITERACY TRUST, GO TO: http://www.justgiving.com/Dickenswalk

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