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On the road to recovery and a pre-Dartmoor health check with @turbostream

The last five months have been frustrating. Back in February I pulled my back, triggering a bout of painful sciatica which left me unable to get outdoors. By the end of April, things seemed to be improving and I managed a few short local hikes, but subsequent relapses meant I had to pull out of the 10in10 and have not been hiking since.

Over the last month though I have started noticing an improvement and my back survived a week of hard labour ‘poo picking’ a couple of horse fields whilst my partner was on holiday. So, with a planned trip to Dartmoor next weekend, it seemed a good idea to get out on test hike to see if it could cope. Adrian (@turbostream) offered to travel down from Birmingham-shire to accompany me on a walk in Salcey Forest.

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Hiking Bow Brickhill, south of Milton Keynes [January’s outdoor day]

Over the last two years, my outdoor time has been very hit and miss – I have only had a few irregular, albeit lovely, weekend outdoor trips, and even the more routine local dog walks has been severely reduced (much to the disgust of my dog). Ultimately I have been getting the balance between being on a computer and being outdoors all wrong.

So this year I set myself two outdoor related resolutions. The first one is to go for a walk each day (ideally with the dog) – distance or location are unimportant, it can be a late night dog walk around the village or a 15 mile hike up a mountain. All that matters is that I get off the computer and go outdoors! The second resolution is to plan an outdoor day (or weekend) each month.

This month I thought I would ease myself in gently and take the dog on a hike around the local countryside – by chance I discovered that Rich (@FlintyRich), who lives relatively local to me, was at a loose end, so we arranged to meet up at The Grand Union Three Locks in Stock Hammond (south of Milton Keynes) the following morning.

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An alternative commute – hiking to work

For a couple of days a week, I am often based on-site at a customer’s office in Stony Stratford, just over 8 miles (by road) from my house. We are a one car family, which naturally means I do not get use of the car, so I have to travel in by bus. As I live in a village with only one bus route, this involves catching the 9am bus* to Wolverton (another nearby town) then waiting around at a bus interchange for a connecting bus to Stony Stratford, arriving by 10am.

(* due to a very odd  bus rota, the bus driver who picks us up has to go  on his break at the next village, so we have to swap buses – it still counts as a single bus on the timetable though!)

Earlier in the week I was idly day dreaming over a local OS map when it occurred to me that after only 10 minutes on that first bus, we pass though Castlethorpe, a village that is only 4 miles (by road) (3 miles by crow) from my final destination, and the countryside between is actually rather pleasant – two river valleys (one is the Great River Ouse) and the Grand Union Canal. Why don’t I walk to work?

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Outdoor wild swimming in Northamptonshire

I always think Northamptonshire gets forgotten when it comes to outdoor activities. For the first few years I subscribed to Countryfile Magazine I religiously collected, ordered and stored the ten route cards included each month – whilst almost every part of the country was covered, there was not a single route in Northamptonshire! So imagine my excitement to discover Northamptonshire has, in the opinion of Daniel Martin – Extreme Athlete, one of the best spots for wild swimming in the world!

A misty and muddy Salcey Forest

As I try and do once a week, this lunchtime I took the dog on a short walk in Salcey Forest – not the popular bit by the cafe and tree walk (although to be fair at this time of year that part is also pretty quiet during the week), but the "wilder" part near the horse-box car park.

I used to walk here with my parents when I was a kid (before the existing horse, cycle and footpaths) and it is still a bit magically – today that was helped by the layer of mist drifting between the trees!

Northamptonshire Round – Cogenhoe to Hartwell

Because dogs aren’t allowed on buses, I usually have to make do with circular routes when I walk locally, so it was a nice change to be able to get a lift (from my very understanding girlfriend) to do an “A to B” walk following part of the Northamptonshire Round (thanks to @TowcesterNews for the recommendation). This leg takes in the view up the huge drive to Castle Ashby, Yardley Chase, Salcey Forest and the villages of Yardley Hastings, Horton, Piddington, and Hartwell. Although there was a lot of road work, the route was very enjoyable. Read more

The Grafton Way – Northamptonshire

The Grafton Way is a 12.5 mile walk between Cosgrove (actually looking at the Ordnance Survey website, it seems to continue down the canal to Wolverton) and Greens Norton, passing past Towcester. The Grafton Way is joined to the North Buckinghamshire Way, The Grand Union Canal Walk, and Ouse Valley Way to the South, and turns into The Knighton Way at Greens Norton. The route is named after the Dukes of Grafton, who were large landowners throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

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Salcey Forest Woodpecker Trail (slightly extended)

As it was such a beautiful day on Sunday, I decided to walk the Woodpecker Trail in Salcey Forest – a 6 (ish) mile walk that circles the whole forest.

Salcey Forest is a remnant of a medieval royal hunting forest situated near the village of Hartwell in Northamptonshire, between Northampton and Milton Keynes.

The walk was less of a training walk for the Offa’s Dyke 4 MS challenge and more a chance to give the dog a nice long walk. That said I tried to keep up a good pace to build up some stamina on what is a fairly unchallenging walk. I also wanted to play around more with Viewranger – especially with the integration with my phone’s camera (most of these photos were taken on my N95 phone via Viewranger).

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