Day 157 & 158, Thursday 28th & Friday 29th September. Lancaster to Blackpool.
My left foot had been getting worse every day and the pain was really getting me down. First thing every morning I am in agony trying to stand up and although it eases through the morning, the pain never completely goes away. Ibobrufen tablets and gel weren't cutting it, I decided it was time to sort it out so I did some research online and found a Podiatrist in Morecambe but couldn't get through on the phone so I walked around to their surgery. A lady answered the door but was insistent that they didn't want to take on any new clients, I explained what I was doing but she was having none of it, no advice, no quick look, bugger off !! I walked back in the rain and jumped on a bus into Lancaster where I'd found the address for another foot specialist, it was chucking it down with rain so I wasn't too bothered that I wasn't walking and I really needed to get this foot looked at and work out what was going wrong.
As soon as I got to Lancaster I found the shop and I explained my predicament to the receptionist. She told me to return at 2pm and the specialist would have some time to see me between his clients, he was fully booked for for the next ten days so I couldn't make an appointment. I headed back out into the rain wondering what to do for the next three hours so walked down the high street looking for a cafe where I could sit in the corner and see how long I could make a coffee last. Befire I found a cafe I noticed a sign for the museum, which also advertised free entry. With three hours to kill I started looking around l, very slowely, fully expecting to be done and out in twenty minutes but what I didn't know, in the heart of the building was the home of the Kings Own Regiment Musuem, a fascinating insight into the military heritage of the City's own regiment from 1680 onwards. Absolutely fascinating so I took my time reading through the incredible history and looking at the displays of this very proud Regiment. While looking through the extensive honours and medal section, I was gobsmacked when I noticed the full medal collection and history of Brother, Lance Sergeant Tom Fletcher VC, you may remember my blog when I visited the Lodge in Millom and discovered his story.
Here in the Regimental Museum was his full medal collection including his Victoria Cross. I experienced an obsurd feeling while I was standing reading his citation, like I somehow knew the man !! Obviously this was because I had learnt all about him two and a half weeks ago when I visited his Lodge, sadly he died in 1958, twelve years before I was born but I'd have loved to have met him, to sit in the bar and chat with him over a glass of wine. Can you even begin to imagine the stories he could tell ?
My renunion with Brother Tom over, I was late getting back to the Podiatrist, it was a wonderful museum and to be honest I don't think I've ever had three hours spare to take my time looking around a museum, another first for me and I highly recommend a visit if you find yourself in Lancaster with some spare time.
The receptionist at the Podiatrist hadn't been entirely honest with me, the foot specialist only had 30 seconds to ask me what my problem was which he then diagnosed in less than 5 seconds and handed me a pair of Scholl insoles. "The highest instep support of any insole" he said, "that should sort you out". I parted with a crisp £20 note and took my 2 pence change which I put in the RNLI charity box, I skipped out of the shop in my flip flops a very happy boy and got the bus back to Morecambe where fortunately my room was still available so I could stay a second night, I headed up for a shower, fitted the insoles into my boots and was in bed for 8pm.
A short bus journey back to Lancaster the next morning and I was back on the trail, new insoles feeling very uncomfortable in my boots. I walked to the Lodge in Lancaster but wasn't expecting to get inside so took some photos and moves on. Back down to the coastal path and back to the edge of the River Lune but now on the other side.
I passed Cockersand Abbey which dated back to 1180 and was The abbey of The Premonstratension Order, whatever that was, never seen or heard that word before. I also passed the cottage where the last two women lighthouse keepers in the UK lived. Janet Raby from 1910-1945 and Beatrice Parkinson from 1946-1963. Tough ladies I thought as I psssed their little cottage, this is a very exposed and isolated place now so back then it must have been bleak.
By late afternoon I'd arrived in Pilling to discover the pub had closed a few years ago, I was sitting on a bench weighing up the small copse trying to decide whether it was a suitable place to camp when a dog walker stopped for a chat, he suggested I walk across the playing fields where I'd find a nice little pub with a decent field behind it where I could camp, it was a couple of miles inland which wasn't ideal but this little copse I was sitting next to was right by a large lay-by that looked like a prime dogging site !!! Not that I'd know what a prime dogging site would look like but I'd guess this lay-by would be perfect. That would mean I probably wouldn't get a peaceful night so I headed for the pub.
I'm glad I did because until that point, I'd had no contact from the Lodges at Fleetwood, Cleveleys or Blackpool. By complete chance, I got chatting to a guy at the bar called Brendan who's auntie just happened to be the Group Secretary at Cleveleys so he called her. After a brief conversation I had the name of a contact and an invite to visit the Lodge. After a couple of pints, Brendan very kindly gave me a lift back to the coast to an area he knew would be perfect for camping and it was. It was only a couple of hundred yards from where I'd walked earlier and it was lovely and quiet.
It was only a 4 mile walk to Knott End-on-Sea the next morning and completely by chance, the little ferry was being prepared over at Fleetwood for a day nipping back and forth across the mouth of the River Wyre. I sat on the bench and had a chat with The Matchstick Man and his dog, L S Lowry, apparently used to sit on this very spot looking for inspiration for his paintings and one of his famous paintings is of the ferry crossing this short stretch to Fleetwood.
I was the only person on the little ferry, apart from the skipper and his mate and what a challenge they had, the tide was racing in so fast it felt like the little boat was barely managing to hold fast against it.
I got to the Lodge in Cleveleys and had a look round and I'd received a call from the lodge in Blackpool so arranged to meet up and look around later that afternoon. It was another two hours walk to Blackpool and I was hurting, I'd agreed to meet at the Lodge at 3pm so pushed on and I'm glad a did. It was a stunning building and definitely one I would like to go back to for a meeting.
I'd looked on my map for a suitable place to camp and there was nothing in Blackpool, it was late afternoon and I knew I wouldn't make it to Lytham St Anne's and I'll be completely honest, I'd had enough. The pain in my foot had been grinding me down every day and I was losing the plot with the whole challenge. The insoles I'd fitted in Morecambe were killing me, it felt like I had a metal bar under the arches of both of my feet and whenever I took my boots off I could see the bruising and the big red mark on each foot that looked more like a burn than a blister, I was done.
I caught a bus back to the Lodge at Cleveleys as the Centre manager had kindly said that I could camp on the grass at the back of the Lodge. I got back, pitched my tent and had a couple of pints in the Lodge bar, I met some lovely people but sadly, my mind was gone and I can't remember any of their names.
This was one of the lovely blokes I met, a fellow Freemason and they made me feel so very welcome, I'm really upset that I never wrote down any of their names before I left the bar early and headed for my tent.
I woke up in the morning after a terrible nights sleep, I felt crap, my feet were in shit state so I decided I was done. I needed to go home, a week earlier than I'd planned but everything was unraveling and I was suffering physically which was now affecting me mentally.
I booked a train ticket from Blackpool to Lincoln on my phone, got up and packed my kit away and I packed my boots away too, I'd make the journey home in my flip flops. A half hour journey back to Blackpool on the tram and a twenty minute walk to the train station, I couldn't believe my eyes as I was approaching the train station doors... 🤬 the complete bastards !!! Northern Rail were on strike, again, there were no trains running all day !!! Why the hell did they let me buy a ticket on line, there was no mention when I was buying the ticket... I slumped down on a low wall, tears running down my cheeks. I felt completely shattered, I was beyond angry, I was completely pissed off. Tired, in pain and knowing I needed to get home, I just sat there, blubbering.
I'd been worrying more and more over the past few weeks that I was actually slipping back into that black hole, the smallest of things were getting to me and although I recognised the signs, I couldn't seem to stop myself from slipping. The more pain I was feeling from my foot, the more tired I was getting, I realised I was losing interest and I was gradually starting to withdraw and I'd even started to avoid meeting people. I was happy to find a Lodge building closed and would avoid making the call to gain access, avoid having to talk to anyone, a classic sign and living like this, it was really easy to withdraw and hide myself away.
I pulled myself together when I noticed a little girl and her mum looking at me sitting there crying, I picked up my rucksack and walked back into town to find a cafe to get something to eat and to sort myself out.
I text Michelle to see if she fancied a drive over to Blackpool to pick me up and when she text back to say she was busy, I should book into a hotel for the night and get the train tomorrow, I had another meltdown. I was clearly in a much worse state than I thought, it felt like the whole world was conspiring against me so balls to everyone, I'd sort it out myself. The brainwave I had at that very instant possibly wasn't one of my finest, I'd hitchhike back to Lincolnshire...
I got on my map to try and work out the easiest route, there wasn't one so I caught a bus to Mereside which was at the end of the M55 where I figured I'd see a lorry from one of the big haulage firms in Spalding, easy !!!
I stood for an hour on the side of the slip road until eventually a guy in a white van stopped, he was heading north so took me up the M6 to Lancaster services where I crossed the bridge and stood on the exit lane heading south. Within 5 minutes a lovely lady in an Audi picked me up, she was heading to Manchester to see friends. She dropped me on the roundabout where the M60, M66 and M62 meet which was the worse place in the world to be dropped. Motorways in every direction, overhead cameras everywhere and vehicles screaming past at stupid speeds. I crossed the 6 lanes of traffic without getting splattered, climbed over the barrier into the nettles and stuck my thumb out, what else could I do ??? 10 minutes later a very kind Indian chap driving a taxi pulled up, he kindly pointed out I was bloody stupid and shouldn't be standing thete and that I was likely to get myself run over, I couldn't argue could I ? He kindly drove me the 4 miles to Birch Services where I was confident I'd find that lorry heading back to Spalding but after walking up and down the row of trucks a couple of times I gave in. I did get a few strange looks from a Romanian driver and from 2 blokes sitting in a truck with Hungarian number plates.... I've seen the hookers walking between the trucks in lay-bys in Romania, surely I didn't misinterpret those looks I was getting from these guys, did I ?? I realised my knight in a shining Scania wasn't happening so walked up to the exit lane where I could stand under the garage canopy to keep out of the rain, just my right arm sticking out in the rain with my thumb up. It was only half an hour or so and another lady pulled up, she had just collected a couple of Australian guys from Manchester airport and was heading back to Hull, perfect... She was actually going to Beverley so she dropped me at the pub on the roundabout just north of the Humber Bridge where I'd been delivered into East Riding by a group of Lincolnshire Freemasons way back in January, when they'd escorted me over the bridge and out of Lincolnshire. I'd text Michelle and she was on route to pick me up so after all that, I had actually got home 2 hours earlier than if I'd caught a train and the £37 had been refunded back into my account...
I was home and I can't begin to tell you how emotionally overjoyed I was. I slept, slept and slept a bit more... I was broken and I needed to sort myself out before I could even think about heading back. The next phase of the walk was going to be tough as winter approached, I needed a plan...