After Leicester I was headed toward what is generally termed as the “South” and the famous Watford Gap and the satellite towns of Milton Keynes and Stevenage. First up though was Northampton, we had a very frosty response to my visit, with the media representative making lots of excuses of why they couldnt let me in or give me a tour, one excuse being that it was International week and he had to accompany of of his players.
I had to check this was, indeed, Northampton and not anywhere else. We went back confirming that all I was after was access to the stadium to take pictures and the reply a curt OK.
Still I held out hope the reception would be good when I actually arrived. I was wrong, the ticket office/reception was shut and unattended, so I had to look through a window and try and attract someones attention. A young lady came out to meet me but rather oddly didn’t greet me until I introduced myself, saying nothing she walked off to open up access to the ground and continued to, say nothing until I asked her a couple questions. The answers were short and I was beginning to feel quite unwelcome, I took the necessary photos I needed and then thanked them and left.
So, sorry Northampton, you have been the most disappointing club so far.
My host for the next few days was my good friend Kirsty who, as luck would have it, lived right on my walking route bewteen Northampton and Milton Keynes. Its always good to have a base to leave my bulky pack whilst walking, so a couple of days respite from it was welcome. I had actually worked in Milton Keynes many many years ago, but it had changed quite a bit as I walked through it. For a start the concrete cows had been moved indoors to surround a tree that had a shopping centre round it because it couldnt be cut down. Odd really.
My visit to the MK stadium was very pleasant, I am not one of these fans who think they do not deserve to exist, of course what happened to Wimbledon all those years ago now was a very unedifying chapter in English football and, thankfully, is the only time a club has been moved in modern history. Arsenal started in Woolwich before moving to Highbury, which is the only example of a club moving prior to MK dons being created.
The stadium is another well done newbuild with room for expansion and I was well looked after whilst there. Antoni, who took me round, was very understanding of the controversy of the past but they are a different club and just want to flourish on their own. I wish them well. On the way to Stevenage I stayed at a really nice village called Barton Le Clay, which I thought sounded like a Bond villain.
I wasnt due to visit Stevenage until Monday morning which meant I had a spare Sunday, so I took the decision to take advantage of my proximity to London and spend 36 hours relaxing and having a well earned rest. I stayed with a good friend Cathy in Wapping and on the Sunday I had arranged to meet some friends for Sunday lunch at the Eagle pub on City Road. It is the one in the tradional nursery rhyme “Pop goes the Weasel”in the lines that go “Up and down the City road, In and out the Eagle. Thats the way the money goes, Pop goes the Weasel” It was a real tonic to meet up with friends, have some great food and chat, it was just what I needed before the long walks to Peterborough and Norwich.
So, early on the Monday morning I headed back to Stevenage, a club that had hurtled through the divisions and was even making strides to the Championship.
I saw Pompeys match there a couple of years ago in the League Cup and had a great time, they had an excellent support and rarely do you see one to rival Pompey fans. As usual from clubs like Stevenage who have a great sense of their place in the football world I had a fantastic welcome and was shown round the ground with pride.
I had a 5 day trek to Peterborough ahead of me, passing through Biggleswade and Sandy, St Neots and Huntungdon. Beautiful countryside, full of arable farmland just waiting for Spring to arrive, lots of farmers were now starting to turn their fields and trim hedges in readyness for the new season.
In Huntingdon I stopped at a small cafe run by some young girls, it was an organic ethically run enterprise and they were all very sweet and very interested in my walk, sadly I lost their details but you should hopefully find them if you are in the area.
I stayed in a B and B in Peterborough before visiting the club, it was run by a dear old lady who I chatted to over Breakfast, she had lost her husband to Cancer and she very generously let me stay for free. Londo road has good memories, the first terrace I had stood on in many a year when Pompey played there a couple of years ago, we also won 3-0 with the best performance I had seen a Pompey side give since the Spurs Semi final in 2010, Eric Huseklepp was on fire that day.
Had a great welcome at the Club, they got my flag signed by Darren Ferguson which was a very nice touch. It was a long trek to Norwich, 5 days walk and first stop was a small village called Whittlesea, I stopped at a real ale pub called the Letter B which was very tidy but again, when I went to pay the landlord, he said I could stay for nothing! Brilliant.
After there I stopped at Elm, south of Wisbech at a place that I was told was Colin Garwoods local, he was a player I saw play for Pompey 35 years ago, it would have been a treat to meet him.
Next was Downham Market which sits next to the Great Ouze river, a lovely little village with a massive Flour works which had obviously been the main trade of the place for centuries. For hundreds of square miles in this part of the country it is mostly arable farming so lots of wheat. Similar market towns I stayed in were Swaffham and Dereham, combined with the flat terrain and the mild spring weather it was a delightful few days walking.
I arrived in Norwich tired but in good spirits and was surprised by how beautiful some parts of the old town were, it has a hidden Art and Music quarter (when I mean hidden, I really mean unknown to me!) and I enjoyed walking around for a couple of hours.
Next day I had my tour of Carrow Road, a ground I had been to a few times, I only really had one question on my mind, What really happened on the evening that Delia shouted “Let’s be having you!” It was simple and I expected the answer, a heavy day on the Champage at a function prior to the game. Fair enough really, I’ve been drunk at games loads of times but thankfully no-one has given me a microphone at half time.
Off to Suffolk and Ipswich then, I had a stay in a farmhouse not far from the Lotus factory on the way and the following evening I made a late decision to spend an evening in London to say goodbye to a friend who was heading off to South Africa after being made redundant, it also gave me the chance to say goodbye to some friends I had worked with at Credit Suisse within Canary Wharf.
I had a great night and thankfully didn’t drink too much as I had an early start back up to Diss to restart my walk. The route to Ipswich also took me through Stoney Aspel and down the old Ipswich road into Ipswich itself, again this was a town I had been to a few times to see Pompey play and It was one I knew quite well.
Sadly I wasn’t there very long, they let me in to take photos but was not given a tour, a shame because Portman Road is a very characteristic ground. I had a long walk to Colchester the next day, through the St Marys, the countryside was nice but the weather was cold and grey as I entered Essex. Colchesters ground is another out of town development which hasn’t worked because the promised developments around it never materialised, it looks isolated and a bit sorry.
Despite that little critique the tour was nice and the staff very kind for my looksee around the place.
Off to the coast next, I was hosted before I left by friends of Pauline who was organising this particular leg and Pauline and her husband took me for a curry at one of their local favourite restaurants, so thanks to everyone for that restful and well fed evening.
The following evening I was staying at an estuary town called Maldon, which was quite picturesque but again the dull weather rather spoilt it when I arrived. Still the B&B I stayed in was run by a lovely old dear and I treated myself to a Chinese evening meal at the shop right across the road.
Couchsurfing is a service I had been recommended I use by my friend Duncan but had shied away from it til now, he had set up a bed for the night in Wickford with a chap called Dan and his housemates, it was a put up bed in the lounge but I was still grateful, especially as they treated me to a sausage and chips for tea. From Wickford it was a shortish 10 mile stroll to Southend, when I got there the place had plenty of people queueing for Johnstone Paint Trophy Final tickets at Wembley, they had just beaten Leyton Orient to get to the Final.
The Shrimpers Trust had very kindly organised for me to stay in a Hotel for two nights so I had the opportunity to rest and recharge the batteries.
Before I settled into the hotel though I had a chat with the Trust peeps who were helping to organise the coach sales on behalf of the club. I came back the next morning to be met by Paul from the Trust and Ray who had worked at the club for over 50 years. He took me round the old ground which could give Fratton Park a run for its money in dereliction, it is no wonder they proudly display the pictures of the new development planned just out of town. It is supposed to be a Shrimps tail but in the pictures it looks like a sperm! Following the tour Paul took me to the training groundto meet the players and manager who were getting ready for the match the next day, the players posed for pictures with me and some listened to stories of my Walk so far. I really enjoyed it, especially the free lunch of pasta, and I thank everyone at Southend United and the Shrimpers Trust for a great day.
Next Blog see’s me enter London for the first part of a two part trip. If you want to donate please do so at www.justgiving.com/walkthe92