‘There are different paths to your destination. Choose your own path.” – Lailah Akita.

That’s all well and good Lailah, but I’d better make sure I don’t have a path which takes me via Abergavenny, Rekyavik and Sarajevo. Now logically the fastest way from Point A (my house) and Point B (Lancaster) is a direct line but I looked on the map and couldn’t see one. Now I’ve done this journey a lot (and jeez, is it BORING) by car and I know exactly how the route goes – M20, M25, M40, M42 and M6 – easy peasy. But doing it on foot is not the same thing at all.

Now I could, I suppose, just follow the road network but the idea of walking alongside busy A roads and dual carriageways has very little appeal. I had this awful image in my head of struggling along some god-forsaken roadside verge made up of straggly grass, discarded fast food wrappers and bottles of ice tea whilst HGVs roared past inches from my lugholes and left me breathing in the heady fumes of diesel particulates. No thanks.

Now you’re probably asking what’s with the bottles of ice tea? Well, take a run down any major road or motorway and there on the verge you’ll often see what seem to be like full bottles of ice tea. Well it’s the same colour as ice tea but however thirsty you are don’t drink it. Steer well clear, in a similar way to the advice of Frank Zappa not to eat the yellow snow. Let me put it this way. Some (male) lorry drivers don’t like to stop to answer a call of nature but they just happen to have an empty soft drinks bottle in the cab. Get my drift?

So anyway, back to the route. From London northwards the answer seemed pretty simple. Rather than fannying around with footpaths and all the navigation that this entailed I immediately thought of using the canal network. I’ve often walked along the canal from Lancaster to Glasson Dock and it made perfect sense. Canals have nice flat towpaths and there are no hills to climb so it should make for easy walking. Also, canals attract allsorts of people – cyclists, other walkers, people fishing and the narrowboat crowd. So I’d get the chance to talk to people and hopefully get them interested in my walk – and more importantly give me filthy lucre.

Canals also have the advantage of passing through towns and throw in riverside pubs and cafes and in theory this should make it reasonably easy to keep stocked up with stuff to eat and drink. So that was decided then. I’d follow the Grand Union canal from London to Birmingham then head off through Shropshire and Cheshire to Ellesmere Port. A quick ferry across the Mersey (got that bloody song in my head now) and then the Leeds & Liverpool canal, the Ribble Link and the final home stretch along the Lancaster Canal. Problem sorted. Easy peasy.

That left the problem of Kent as there’s no canal from Dover to London and struggling up the A2 did not appeal. Now I’m a member of quite a few internet forums. It’s where people with similar interests get together to anonymously insult each other. And one of the forums I use is for Buchcrafters. This is for those fans of Bear Grylls (adrenaleine fuelled loony) and Ray Mears (soft and cuddly Uncle Ray), guys who like to meetup with other guys and then do things together in the woods (no, not those kind of things). I posted up a message to the assorted brains and within a day a kind and intelligent soul suggested why not follow the North Downs Way?

What a brilliant idea. I found a good map of the route
(http://ramblingman.org.uk/planningatrip/planning_a_north_downs_way_trip) and it seemed ideal. The route has two options for the first bit – via Canterbury or Folkestone. Now whenever I’ve driven out of Dover two things always strike me. The first is that driving OUT of Dover is always a good idea. Unfortunately, I have spent time in this delightful seaside watering hole (mainly hunting round the charity shops) whilst waiting for trains or ferries and the place really is a dump. I wonder if it suffered more at the hands of the Germans who lobbed shells into the place from Cap Griz Nez during the war or perhaps it’s the inept local council that’s to blame. Anyway, whenever I’ve been driving out of Dover I’ve always had this hankering to walk along the cliffs to Folkestone and so come this June I shall have my chance.

From Folkestone the Way takes me inland north west(ish) towards Chatham and then continues more to the west and the badlands of Surrey. Here the Way and I will part company and I shall continue into London to get to the start of the Grand Union canal at Little Venice near Paddington. Honestly, where do these names come from? Little Venice? Will I see goldoliers gliding by singing ‘Just one Cornetto’ like in the real Venice? And Paddington? – well fancy naming a railway station after a fictional bear, I ask you.

So that’s the route sorted out. Simple. What could possibly go wrong?


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