Monday, 16 June 2014

Pooh Bear & Emmaus School Hike the Ring of Bath

Emmaus School: a small Christian school in Wiltshire running out of space and in need of a new building.

Pooh-Bear: A bear on a mission. Or just carried along for the ride, I mean, hike, I mean, well you'll find out what I mean!

Ring of Bath: A 25mile (approx) walk around the hills of Bath, starting and finishing at Alexandra Park, taking in the views of Bath and the surrounding countryside, devised by a teacher at Beechen Cliff School in Bath.  For an approximation of the route (from memory) see this link:

The Mission: For the children, accompanied by two teachers, a qualified paramedic and the guide, to walk the entire route to raise money for the new building for the school.

Because we had to begin the walk at 6am on Friday morning we gathered the brave team of Year 7-11s the evening before  for games and a sleep over at the school. This included basketball on the playground during sunset:

Even Pooh-Bear got involved!!

And marshmallows around the newly built fire pit

Lights out was supposed to be 10pm for a 4:45am breakfast. While the boys settled down in the main school, most of the girls were in bed by 9:30pm! Some of us, including our amazing headteacher, sat around the fire worshipping God through song. When we finally went back inside, we were treated to the tale of Piglet and the Heffalump from A.A Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh, read to us by said Headteacher!

Of course as you can expect, school sleep overs don't often mean sleep and most of us only managed a couple of hours before the countless BEEP BEEP BEEPs of phone/tablet alarms woke us at 4am.

"The Sun was still in bed, but there was a lightness in the sky over the Hundred Acre Wood which seemed to show that it was waking up and would soon be kicking off the clothes." - Winnie The Pooh Chapter 5

Breakfast included fruit, croissants and fruit juice and then off to pack and prepare for the day ahead. Everyone was in good spirits as the sunrise treated us to better colours than the sunset the night before. I was too busy packing up (and too tired!) to take any decent photos. SIGH.

We only left 5 minutes later than planned. But despite the rain warnings earlier in the week, it was a bright and sunny morning with the promise of being a bit too warm for hill climbing... Pooh-Bear wasn't phased.

We started our walk pretty much on time and I think everyone was grateful that the first bit was down hill, from Alexandra Park  to the bottom of Widcombe.

Sadly this lovely slope was short-lived and we soon began the worst hill of the walk (at least for me). I knew that the first hour, the hour before lunch, and the last hour of the walk would be the worst. I was right. The first hill was torture and made me wonder for the first (not last!) time whether I would manage the walk. But I knew it was just because it was still early and I wasn't used to the walk yet so I pushed on.

I didn't get much chance to stop to take photos of flowers and small things on the way but I did capture this little wild flower.

And let Pooh-Bear take a few snaps of his adventure

After the first giant hill we were to descend into the valleys of Combe Down. Because the group was very mixed ability, as it were, there was a faster paced group and then some of us at the back with the slower children. Of course this only works if all the adults know the route! Which at that point we didn't. So those of us at the back got separated and had to do a bit of educated guesswork to find the others. Thankfully I had a friend who had lived in the Combe Down area and I had a sneaking suspicion that we would be heading down the footpath opposite her house. So, without being able to contact the others, we managed to find them and get down in the valley and follow a lovely little river apparently called Horsecombe Brook and on to our first stop at St Gregory's.

After a 10 minute stop to check for blisters, retie shoes, have a drink and snack, we headed for Rush Hill and the aptly named Round Hill where Pooh-Bear had his photo taken again.

Our next destination was through Twerton Woods, over the Avon River, up the hill in Weston to Oldfield School for Second-Breakfast, Hobbit-style. By now we had been walking for 4 hours.

Our next stop would be at Landsdown Racecourse via Kelston Round Hill. It included some beautiful scenery of Englishcombe, Newton-St-Loe near to where I studied and in the distance I think I spotted Bath Spa Uni's new building (which I can't seem to find in my photos!) This meant more uphills and a couple of the group did struggle here. The views were definitely worth the climb and the cool morning breeze kept us cool and refreshed.

The view from the top of Kelston Round Hill

 Pooh-Bear was relieved to know we were almost at our lunch spot in Wooley. We rested for about 15 minutes at The Blathwayt just next to Landsdown Racecourse (above) which we walked across after seeing the views at Kelston Round. After that it was just a bit more uphill before the downhill "stroll" to our lunch spot in Wooley. But this was when my hamstrings decided to tell me they had had enough and it wasn't yet midday. So I limped down the hill in pain.

Lunch at Wooley was a good rest. We sat on the side of a dead-end road next to the little parish church, not thinking about what was to come - rules of hiking, what goes down, must go up!

But we still had a little down hill before the horrible hill and more hills that would eventually get us up to the top of the best view of the day - Little Solsbury Hill. This was where a battle during the Civil Wars was fought as well as a battle during Alfred The Great's time. What great history Somerset has.

We were able to look back at see where exactly we'd been minus a few hills hidden behind other hills.

Pooh-Bear feeling very proud of his stamina so far! (HA! He spent most of the walk strapped to me by my rucksack clips as no one else wanted to be embarrassed!)

So, the hill on the horizon was where we started. This was between 1pm and 1:30pm. We had been going for at least 7 hours already.

Our next destination was just down the hill into Batheaston where we lost two of our members because they had had enough. I was asked to take another 4 children to the George Inn at Bathampton so they wouldn't have to climb Brown's Folly which, if you've followed my blog, know I've seen already. We waited for 2 hours for the rest of the group to get to the George after we arrived.

Last time I saw Bathampton Mill it was flooded.

So after our lovely 2 hour wait in which our muscles cooled down too much to even think about walking again! we started again with the rest of the group with "only" the hill up to Bath Uni to contend with and then a small hill back to the start.

The hill up to the Golf Course at Bath Uni was a woodland hill that was at what felt like a 60 degree gradient! No photos there because it was too dark for the camera.  We only got a glimpse of Bath and (although I didn't realise it at the time) our destination after walking through Bath Uni Campus feeling absolutely shattered. One or two of the girls looked like zombies on the last hill down.

See that hill in front of us, it was already 15min past our arrival time and we needed to get there.

Once down the hill we had to navigate a few roads and some very steep stairs to reach the back of Beechen Cliff's playing field. And we finally arrived 3 hours past our original ETA, 15 hours after starting the walk, having done just over 21 miles for those who didn't do Brown's Folly and 28.9 miles for those who did.

If you had asked me when we arrived if I would ever do it again, I would have told you NEVER AGAIN.

BUT, having seen the photos and had a few days to relax and realise what we actually managed to do. Yes, I would do it again. Knowing what to expect, I would be more prepared and I would like to do it with fewer people at a nice slow pace with time to stop and take in the scenery a bit more and take more photos. What was great about this route was that so much of it meant something to me already and it made me realise how much I had explored the countryside around Bath in one way or another before.

I wasn't able to ask Pooh-Bear what he thought when we finished because for the last 3 or 4 hours, his owner, his own Christopher Robin (not real name of course!) carried him and they arrived and left Alexandra Park before I did but I'm sure he enjoyed it even if he did get a little muddy and some Pepsi spilt on him.

If you would like any information on Emmaus School you can click on their name to go to the website and if you would like to donate to our amazing school, follow the Building Project link on the website.

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