The weather the next day for the walk to Middlesboro was equally as grim as the previous day so the 8 mile Walk past the huge industrial park that is in the Wear was a real grind, the only saving grace was using the Transporter Bridge to cross into the City itself. I had previously wanted to use the one at Port Talbot, but it was closed on the Sunday I was there, which was quite annoying as I wasted an hour walking to it. I was told by some Boro fans on Twitter that a good cheap place to stay just off the Town Centre called the Princess Alice, i found it and talked to the Landlord who was kind enough to let me have a room for only a tenner a night, which was very generous. Once I had dried out and changed my clothes, I set off to the Riverside stadium in order to get my tour of Boro, its not too far a walk from the Town which is rather unusual for a new build of this size. Alongside the Stadium is the huge £2.7m Temenos art structure by Anish Kapoor which is very impressive, except when I spoke to the locals about it, none of them could tell me what it was! It clearly hadnt made an impression on them.
The Boro tour was given to me by the receptionist, who was very enthusiastic but we had to rush through as it was late on a Friday afternoon, still Club 45 was done and dusted.
I had a spare day the next day and it was a day I had been looking forward to for a while, Portsmouth were scheduled to play at Hartlepool and it was planned to be a day I would meet up again with a lot of mates and enjoy watching Pompey lose after a few beers. Trouble was the weather I had endured the last couple of days had put the match in danger of being called off, there was a planned pitch inspection at 8am so I set my alarm for 8am and kept my eye on Twitter to see what the decision was. It had only started raining again about 7am but it was set to last all day, the ref looked at the pitch and decided to check again at 9am, but I think everyone knew what the decision would be and eventually the ref called it off. Two friends Duncan and Deano had already left London on the train and they were searching the Internet to find a game on in the North East, as the rain came down matches were continuing to be called off, but Duncan found out that Durham AFC had an artificial pitch and they were playing at home, so I jumped on a train to Durham to meet them there.
We had a march around town having a whistle’stop tour of the place and a few pints on the way before jumping in a cab to Durham AFC for the match. It was still teeming down when we arrived so we were looking for somewhere dry and warm to watch the match, as we walked along the main stand, well the only stand, we saw a hospitality suite with a couple of people in it. Duncan started to tap on the window and point to his Pompey badge before then shouting through the window for us to be allowed in. With his usual charm and tact employed, we were ushered in to explain why we were there, we met the Chairman who was delighted to have us and we were treated really well with free booze and food! Durham romped to a 4-0 win as well in what was a pretty good match, so all in all a day that started with disappointment when the Pompey match was called off was turned into a cracking day at Durham AFC.
I was quite drunk when I got back to my Hotel room which didnt bode well for the walk the next day. I was heading for Northallerton before settling in on Christmas Eve in Ripon. A friend from Portsmouth, Jake Payne, was staying with In-Laws at Yarm and I was passing near to that on my route, so I dropped him a text message to see if he could meet me for a quick drink late morning. I didnt get a reply because his phone was off until well past lunchtime and I had already walked miles past Yarm even though the wind was pretty strong and set against me slowing me down. We agreed to meet in my digs in Northallerton and that evening he and his bro-in-law who was a Boro fan gave me some company and bought me a couple of pints. Jake has been involved in Pompey for many years now and is the main orgainser of the Hall of Fame annual dinners and awards, he told me some stories of life at Pompey recently that only served to highlight just how bad things had gotten at Fratton.
On Christmas Eve I trudged the 17miles to Ripon and to my resting place for the next two nights. I was staying in converted stables out the back of an Inn! I couldn’t think of a better place to stay over Christmas and I was delighted when the landlord handed me 3 Christmas Card and a Present! How lucky was I, friends had gambled on the post getting them there on time and for once Royal Mail delivered on time and didnt let anyone down.
I wandered up to the local supermarket and bought some goodies for the next day, Nuts, Cheese and Crackers and a healthy supply of chocolates, not forgetting also my Christmas Dinner which was Prawn sandwiches for starters and Turkey and Stuffing for main course. As conventional as I could make it.
On Christmas Day itself I ignored breakfast in return for a well overdue lie in, the present was opened and it contained a very nice range of chocolate liquers, yum! I had a lot of chocolate to get through the next few days, good job I was going to walk it off. Around lunchtime I went for a walk around Ripon, it was very quiet and peaceful and a lovely town, that peace was punctuated by some phone calls from friends wishing me a Happy Christmas, one even from as far away as Thailand, and along with the many Text and Tweet messages of support and goodwill I felt far from lonely. I had to admit the build up to Christmas had hit me hard, the realisation that I would be alone on Christmas Day had led me to have a few days of despair but I ended up being overwhlemed at just how many people we thinking of me.
It was an unusual Christmas, but a good one. Thanks to everyone who made contact over Christmas, I was touched by it. I walk on with hope in my heart because of you all.