Jump!

And so began probably the toughest stretch up past the Lakes and into Cumbria to Carlisle and then across Hadrians Wall through Northumberland and ending up in the North East to start the long hike South.

I left Carnforth to head to the first stop which was Kendal, 15 miles away. The terrain got gradually sparser as I headed North up the Scotland Road or the A6 as its normally called. It was a fairly non-descript journey until I hit Milnthorpe and then the scenery to my left started to become more and more beautiful as I entered the Lakes area. I was meeting a chap called John who was putting me up in the Lakes once I had reached Kendal, he lived near Windermere at a place called Bowness which is a tourist town full of Hotels and shops for those holidaying in the area. He picked me up from a pub I found that was open, even at 4pm all of the bars in town weren’t open yet which was very odd, he took me back to his amazing house and I washed and changed. We met some’of his mates in a bar in town and he treated me to some dinner, the long walk had given me a ravenous appetite and the Carbonara I ordered went down in a matter of minutes. Adding to that was 2 1/2 pints of Guinness and I was done for the day, at 9pm on a Friday night, this walking lark certainly ruins the party animal in you.

We left Bowness very early the following morning and it was a dream of a morning, we stoppped by the Lake in Windemere in order to take some photos, it was so clear and still and gave me a good start to the day and set me up for what was going to be a difficult climb up to my stop that evening in Shap.

It had snowed just a couple of days before up on the mountains and hills of the Lake District and I was worried that once I had reached the heights of the Shap pass it would be very icy, not the kind of thing you need when you are carrying a vrey heavy pack up inclines. Luckily most of the ice had turned into slush apart from a few patches here and there and with the weather being kind to me it was a really lovely walk, the views of the mountain peaks covered with snow was a real treat. I stayed in a lovely pub called the Greyhound which was being paid for by a very kind friend of Johns, called Paul, who was also standing me a night in a place at Penrith.

I was hoping once I reached Shap it would be all downhill the next day but I was wrong, there was one section of the road that dipped down toward a river crossing and then rose again, it was a painful struggle to get back up again because it was a steep winding climb the like of which I hadn’t encountered since Devon. It was a lovely day again though so the option of stopping regularly to admire the views and catch a breather was taken quite a lot!

I dragged myself into Penrith that evening and checked into my digs for the evening with a ravenous appetite, I looked around the town of Penrith and found, down some dingy alleyway, a fantastic chippy so, even though it was a Sunday night, I had a slap up Fish and Chip dinner. Carlisle was the next stop and that was half way in this particulalry difficult section of the Walk, before I left Penrith I had a look around the Castle whivh was the one time home of Richard, Duke of Gloucester who later became Richard III. Of course the bones of Richard III have just recently been identified and found in Leicester, even despite the constant threat of raids, I’m sure Richard would have preferred to have been found in Cumbria.

Penrith to Carlisle was thankfully a far flatter and straighter journey and when I finally reached he most northerly city on my Walk I was quite disappointed that the welvome sign was so small, not sure what I was expecting really, something along the lines of the Welcome to Las Vegas sign would have been nice, but no it was a tiny sign saying “Carlisle”, I had my picture taken by it anyway.

I don’t know if you remember but several years ago Carlisle United was flooded and the ground was several feet under water, when I visited the following day the subject of weather came up and they showed me the pictures from that day, it was amazing to see a football ground full with water, happily they have installed flood defenses along the river that flooded so it shouldnt happen again. They are looking to move nonetheless and I dont blame them. I have actually visited Brunton Park before, 3 years ago when Pompey were still in the Premiership, we played Carlisle in the League Cup and I caught a train from London around 3pm that was due in 5 mins after kick off, which was a small price to pay for a cheaper fare and no need for a day off work. Sadly the train was held up just outsode Wigan North due to someone threatening to jump off a bridge, one drunken Scotsman was getting mmore upset the longer we didnt move and fell out with his wife when he exclaimed “Let the bastard jump so we can get home!”. We were delayed by around 45 mins so once I arrived at Carlisle I dashed to the ground in a taxi and arrived just as the referee blew for the end of the first half. Quite a few mates were getting the overnight train home at around 1.30am, so I had made a 14 hour round trip to spend less than 5 hours in the town.

This time I spent more time looking around the town following my visit to the club, after all it had taken me 3 1/2 months to get there, and I also took the train to Gretna Green to look around the famous eloping town for an hour, who knew it was all down to an Anvil?

My next update will be just after Christmas so I would like to wish all my followers and blog readers a very Merry Christmas, personally I shall be in Ripon hopefully enjoying the company of any of the locals of the White Horse who will talk to me.

Have a cool Yule!

Bring me sunshine, all the while….

Leaving Blackburn and looking at the West Coast clubs I was heading towards made me think that I would soon be at the most northerly point and facing some of the toughest but interesting areas in the Lake District and also along Hadrians Wall. But first up was Preston North End and a ground I had visited before. I arrived on the Sunday afternoon and it was pretty icy but that made the famous statue of Tom Finney, which is called “The Splash”, look all the more impressive.

The following morning I returned and was given a tour by a lovely chap from their community dept and I was very impressed with Deepdale, the way the 4 stands have been developed makes for a very neat and compact stadium which can generate a lot of noise, something that again we at Fratton Park could learn from if we ever get the chance to rebuild it. Before I left they got the Chairman, Peter Ridsdale, to sign my flag which I was amused by given his record with football clubs. Immediately leaving PNE I was heading to Blackpool which was a fair old trek in the 4 hours of daylight I had left, but if you we going to arrive anywhere at night then I suppose Blackpool is the place to do it.

I was staying in the exoticly named Aloha Hotel which was on the seafront just north of the North Pier, when I arrived after taking in some of the illuminations I was quite shocked to see just how un-Hawian the place was! Seeing the prices of some of the better Hotels I think I made a bad decision, still I wasnt staying in the place longer than needed seeing as there was plenty to do in Blackpool, well’as much as you can do out of season. Bloomfield Road is another new ground, another historic one too, that greats like Armfield and Matthews graced post war in that golden age of English Football. I didnt realise it was so close to the Sea, it must have seen some cold games over the years. Its now a tidy ground with corporate development around it including a Hotel, it doesn’t much resemble a Football Ground from close up but then a lot of modern redevelopments don’t. Blackpool donated a signed shirt for auction so I got that sent to Prostate Cancer to get some money for it through their own auction site. Fingers crossed it gets a few quid.

A stroll up the coast to Fleetwood followed my visit to Bloomfield Road, its about 5 miles between each of the grounds so I decided to do it that afternoon without a pack to weigh me down, it was a fun walk, the coast is really beautiful even with a high wind and a raging sea. I got the tram back south to Blackpool and took a trip up the Tower to admire the view, tyey have installed a glass plate at the top, which allows you to stand on nothing and look down. I am far from comfortable at heights so I watched others walk out and enjoy the view through the floor, whilst I hung onto a pillar and tried to take photos. In the evening I took the Tram right down to the South of the Pleasure Beach and walked the mile back to the North pier taking in all the illuminations, it was eerily quiet though out of season znd reminded me of Southsea in the depths of Winter as a kid.

Fleetwood Town have had a meteoric rise to the Football League backed by a local Fan who has backed their climb from local league football to the Professional game. They play at Highbury, which is now the only League ground called that since Arsenal left for the Emirates and it is dominated by one large new stand which houses the offices for the club. I mentioned I hadnt had any breakfast after leaving my crap hotel and they gave me a full english and after meeting one of the players they presented me with a Fleetwood Hat and Scarf, which was a nice touch as I headed to the frozen north. A friendly club and I wish them well.

Last of the coastal clubs was Morecambe, which was a short boat trip and then a long walk through Lancaster. I stayed in a nice little Morecambe B&B that evening and treated myself to some quality fish and chips for tea. My time at the club was great fun, I spent time with the manager and many of the team and took lots of photos, many of the staff there seemed genuinely interested in what i was doing and also the enormity of the Walk.

I left Morecambe and headed out up the seafront in a gale and heavy rain which was a shame, because I wanted to enjoy the Eric Morcambe statue, but the weather was so foul that even the sight of Eric couldnt brighten the atmosphere. I was headed to a place called Carnforth which was the first stop on my trek up past the lakes, Carnforth is famous for being the place that the film “Brief Encounter” was shot, it was a love story about a couple that met in a Rail Station cafe and in tribute I stayed in the Carnfoth Station Hotel. I was surprised that the owners of the hotel weren’t maing much of the link really, perhaps because they were redecorating. The Station itself has a museum which was interesting to look around, I vaguely remember seeing the film when I was young and marvelled at the dialog, they don’t make films like that any more.

Next update details my trek up the Lakes and walk across Hadrians wall toward Newcastle. See you then.

It’s not grim up North

Following the evening of emotion and culture at St Georges hall in the evening, the next morning I headed to Goodison to take the tour of the place in the company of a delightful lady called Carena. She was a pcoket dynamo of a girl with a charming scouse accent and her friendly excitement in showing me around contrasted to the slightly frosty reception I had received at Anfield. Everton call themsleves the Peoples club and that shone through. During the tour I met the kitman and he gave me an armful of energy drinks and also a Phil Neville shirt which I decided to give to Ian for his hospitality.

Afterward Roy from SOS got in touch again, he had been onto Liverpool and had secured some complimentary tickets for the Europa Cup match at Anfield that evening against Young Boys of Berne. They ended up being in the Press Box area so included a free hot buffet and half time soup, very nice indeed on a very cold evening, Liverpool had redeemed themselves somewhat. I was disappointed with the home crowd and the Kop but the Berne fans were raucous and at one point unveiled a baner with a message of support for the Hillsborough Families which brought a standing ovation from all sides of the ground. The game was quite open and featured a young Liverpool side who played well in patches but struggled to keep posession, it was clear that to win the game the big guns would have to come off the bench so on came Gerrard and Suarez to help push the home side into a 2-1 lead but Young Boys came back once Liverpool had taken their foot offf the gas and got a deserved late equaliser. What was really fun to see and very unusual was the Young Boys players all went over to their travelling support and celebrated with them performing some rehearsed routines, you could never imagine any British team doing that.

I walked away from Anfield with Roy to meet my hosts at the Irish Centre not far from the ground, they were deep’into a quiz when i arrived and when it finished the bar had a whip round to raise money for my cause which was very kind of them, especially as I was no help at the quiz.

Tranmere was next on the club list and whilst I was taking some pictures around the ground the team was training on the pitch, I spent 15 mins watching the manager taking them through some game situations and it was great to have an insight into what a training session was like for a pro team. Tranmere looked well drilled and are leading League 1 as I write and when they face Pompey at the weekend I think it may well be very tough for them to get any kind of result.

Following my visit to Prenton Park on the friday I had to walk back to the ferry and begin my walk to Blackburn, I was headed to Goodison to give myself a starting point to go from on the folowing Sunday, the reason being was that 3 very good friends of mine Paul, Jim and Alan were coming from Portsmouth to spend some time with me, I hadnt seen them for some time so it was great they were coming all this way for a couple of days of fun in Liverpool. Much to our amusement Paul had been in charge of booking the Hotel and he had struggled to find somewhere in the City centre so had booked something that described itself as being 20 mins from the City centre was at least 40 by train at a place called Eastham Rake. Chester was nearer.

On the second night out Jim had bullied us into playing spoof at regular intervals, a game where each person holds up to 3 coins in there hands and each person has to guess the total number held by the group, if someone guessed correctly they we out and the rest played in, the loser had to submit to a forfeit that was decided by the first person out. As the alcohol flowed the demands got more and more outrageous and I got stung for one round of 4 drinks that cost 26 quid! I was tasked with buying 4 double whiskeys and the always helpful Paul suggested I get one particular whiskey, I didnt realise it was not on the discount list so when the waitress told me the price I swore at him quite a few times! It was still great fun to see my best friends and a real boost to my morale as I headed towards a very tough Winter in the north.

I had to head back to Lancashire to sweep up the 3 clubs that are just a few miles from each other north of Manchester and first up was Blackburn, before I got there I headed through Chorley and Malc once again came to my rescue and took me to stay on his sofa in Bolton to save me paying for a night in a b and b, he is turning out to be one of the most valuable people I have met on this walk in terms of getting me help.

The Rovers Trust had arranged for me to stay in a Hotel opposite Ewood Park called the Fernhurst for 2 nights and on the Wednesday I visited the club for a tour and photos and received a complimentary ticket to that evenings game against Bolton. I had seen 4 score draws so far as a guest of clubs so when Bolton took a very early lead I assured the Rovers fans around me thzt they would equalise. I was wrong as Bolton ran out fairly easy 2-1 winners and the fans around me were not happy because they had jot seen a win in some games. Afterward I went to the Blues bar to quickly meet Claire and Dawn from the Trust and we discussed how they were doing and I gave them as much advice as I could give based on my experiences of when the Pompey Trust started. Its fair to say they harve a tricky job on their hands not just with the club but with fellow fans, I wish them every success in securing the future of their club.

Just up the road are Accrington Stanley, a club that were reformed in 1968 which makes them the same age as myself and of course if you are also as old as me you will remember the milk advert that made them famous in modern times. It involved two scouse kids discussing the merits of drinking milk with one saying “My dad says if you dont drink milk you’ll only be good enough to play for Accrington Stanley”, his pal replies “Who are they?” with the final reply being “Exactly!”. Stanley were very good to me and bought me lunch before I finished my days walking arriving in Burnley that afternoon.

I was being hosted in Burnley by Steve and his wife Nic, they actually lived in a place called Heptonstall which is next to Hebdon Bridge. on the borders of Lancashire and Yorkshire. A stunningly picturesque village set in some of the most beautiful countryside it was a pleasure to spend some time there. The first evening we went to the local pub which had a quiz night and we were joined by several fellow quizzers that included a Film Producer, Actor, Musician and a set designer! We won quite handsomely and I wasnt a weak link with my knowledge of daytime TV and Sport coming up trumps. The Landlord fnd out about my guest visit and made me speak to the pub who then had a whip round for my cause, it was hugely generous so I must say a big thanks to all at the Cross pub in Heptonstall.

After visiting Burnley the next day Steve gave me a tour of the area and I saw more of the stunning scenery around Hebdon Bridge, it was a real treat and set me up for my walkback through North Lancashire. Talking of that I had another really nice surprise on my walk back through Blackburn, a couple I had met through the Rovers Trust Claire and Tris were lending me their house for an evening, even though they werent there! Plus I got taken out to Frankie and Bennys for pasta by Dawn and Simon from the Rovers Trust so I cant thank them all enough for their support over the days I was there.

So, after my visit to the West Coast I face the toughest part of my trip to Carlisle and Newcastle, lets hope the weather is as kind as the people up here!

Speaking Truth To Power

And so back to Bolton. I was again at a club on a matchday so they were playing a game against Barnsley game who had brought a fair few raucous fans. The club had kindly given me a ticket and took some photos prior to kick off but my Pompey Pal in Bolton had found a contact that had a Box for the game. So, once I had done the photo ops with thir keeper Bogdan and the club mascot, whilst avoiding some odd toast shaped mascot, I got taken up to the Box to join my hosts and watch the game.

Now it was really nice to be invited into a Box to enjoy some nosh but I can safely say its not the way I like to watch a football match, give me standing and singing any day. The gallows humour of the Bolton fans I was sitting with was entertaining though, even if the 1-1 draw wasn’t. A shoutout to the Barnsley fans who were noisy throughout despite some over officious stewarding who enforced standing but only with the odd kid.

Heroes to a man.

The following day I was joined again by the Barretts who walked with me from the Reebok to Wigan, it was only a few miles but it was nice to have some company again and we were blessed with a lovely sunny day again. When I arrived I was greeted by Dawn and her active son Keegan who asked a lot of questions, some of them even relevant to my walk. They lived some miles from Wigan and they treated me to Sunday dinner. Keegan gave me some sweets, which was very kind of him, well I thought so until I was told he hated them because they were too tough for his teeth!

The tour of the DW was fun, another new ground ticked off, and after that I headed towards merseyside via St Helens and Prescot, unbeknownst to me a Pompey fan called Dave Sargent who I had got in touch with via Twitter lives just a mile or two from Prescot so he met me for a pint and kindly gave me a lift to my digs for the night. Top fella that Dave is he also picked me up the following morning and bought me breakfast at his favourite cafe in Prescot, chers Dave!

My walk into merseyside took me into a place that I didnt even know existed outisde of one mans imagination and that was Knotty Ash, there were no reported sightings of Diddy Men or Tickling sticks which was a shame. Nor any tax men either.

I took a long route to Anfield and Stanley Park through Queens Drive and was quite excited when I walked past the sign saying Anfield borough, being locked in terrace housing, some of which is being knocked down and regenerated, Anfield the ground suddenly looms up at you out of nowhere it seems and has the power to enchant. I grew up with Liverpool dominating football in the 70′s and 80′s so this was a ground I was very much looking forward to visiting having never managed to come to watch Pompey over the years. I walked around the ground taking some pictures and chatting to some security staff and then heased across Stanley Park to walk to Goodison Park, the home of Everton.

I timed it at a leisurely 9 minute stroll between the two grounds. Notts County and Nottingham Forest may be closer, but there is a river between them, I will have to wait until I get there to time the walk to see who is the winner.

My hosts for the next 3 days were Ian and Shirley who lived on the Wirrel side of the river in a beautiful house with great views across the Mersey to Liverpool in a place called New Brighton. Ian is a staunch Evertonian and they were great hosts for my time there, it is a real pleasure to know that I have a base and can spend as much time as possible exploring an area or City such as Liverpool. I jumped on the train to New Brighton and was picked up from the station to settle in for the evening. The following morning I took the train and bus back to Anfield to participate in my visit, whrn I arrievd at reception though the was confusion about what was happening, no one seemed to know I was arriving! It transpired that the person that Sue had been liaising with had left the employ of LFC and my arrival arragements had fallen through the cracks, a bit of a shame but no big deal. They arranged to put me on a tour which unfortunately didn’t take in any of the interior of the ground because the TV cameras were being put up for the Europa Cup game the following night. It was very disappointing not to see the famous “This is Anfield” sign but I suppose it couldn’t be helped.

I walked back into town to complete the walk to Tranmere that afternon and a mooch around the town centre took me towards the famous Liver building and the Ferry (a)cross the Mersey. It was a gorgeous day, bright sunshine but very chilly, and it was probably the perfect day to enjoy the Ferry and the great views of both sides of the river, I couldnt have planned it better. I completed the walk to Prenton Park in short order and then headed back to Liverpool by train.

Earlier in the day I had contacted the Spirit of Shankly who are the Liverpool Trust and spoke to a chap called Roy, he had invited me that evening to a talk by Phil Scraton called “Speaking Truth To Power” at he beautiful St Georges Hall about his work on the Hillsborough disaster and the conclusions drawn from the recent report that had been published. It was a powerful evening, full of emotion and utter incredulity at the way the authorities conducted themselves on that day and in the weeks and months afterwards, many times there were gasps and shaking of heads from the audience at some of the ways that the Police forces involved behaved.

Simply put, Hillsborough was a disaster waiting to happen and a catalog of failures by all the authorities involved in arranging the fixture led to the deaths of the 96 Liverpool fans that day. The sad thing is that Police forces up and down the country still have a determination to demonise Football Fans and treat them with appaling disdain, like animals that have to be controlled. We should all do our best to change the culture of how fans are treated when attending football matches and the excuses that have been built on the lies of Hillsborough must stop.

I was incredibly humbled to be there and my thanks goes to Roy and all at SOS for allowing be to be present at a very special evening.

Next update completes Leg 3 and sees me heading further north as the reported coldest winter for yonks draws in. Yikes!

Meeting Heroes – On and off the pitch

Shocked into silence, that’s not usually me. I’m not usually star struck either.

I had arrived at Old Trafford the other Monday morning and announced myself in reception, there was some initial confusion while they tried to find the person who was dealing with me, but I sat patiently waiting to then be informed that there was no United Legend at the club today so I would not be having my photo taken with one. Slightly disappointed I joined a tour of the stadium which had been kindly laid on for me by the chaps in the media dept and which started at 10am.

The guide took us into the stadium after his initial introduction but his radio crackled with a message, “If Scott Mclahlan could run round to the East Stand reception then Sir Bobby will be there to greet him.” It didn’t really register until the guide said to me “Your luck is in Son, you’re meeting Sir Robert.” So, breathless with excitement I jogged round to the East Stand reception where the receptionist who had earlier told me I was out of luck was now offering me a Coffee and a seat to wait for the great man.

After a few minutes he emerged from the side door and he warmly greeted me after the Media chaps had introduced me and explained what i was doing. I was struggling to do anything apart from grin like a lunatic at this point but I did splutter out some words of thanks for him meeting me. At Sir Bobbys request we all headed up to one of the boxes which lead out to the Stadium in order to pose for some photos and immediately you could tell how warmly Sir Bobby felt about Old Trafford, he lit up when talking about the place. It was a pleasure to be in his company if only briefly, a real highlight of my walk and a moment I will never forget. He shok me warmly by the hand and wished me good luck bemoaning the fact he couldnt do much walking himself now, especially in places like Inverness where he had spent some time recently.

One of footballs true greats and a real gentleman.

After an interview for the United magazine I went back on the tour to see Old Trafford up close myself, its an impressive place and a recent addition of the Munich memorial in one part of the ground that is accessible by the public is a really nice touch, telling the story and also providing a fitting memorial. It really serves to remind people what early commercial airflight was like and sometimes just how dangerous it was, we take flying for granted now but post war it was a risky business.

That evening I stayed with a lady called Clare who lived in a nice place just outside of Stockport and worked at the BBC in the Mediacity, its an impressive place in the rebuilt quays and the whole regeneration of Manchester in that area looks modern and dynamic. Sadly Clare had a missing cat called Archie and we spent some time that evening looking for him and putting up posters, I hope he has now returned safe and sound.

The next day I headed to the Emirates to visit Manchester City, a place I had been before but the last time I had not very happy memories as Portsmouth were roundly beaten 6-0. The improvement is massive after a few years of investment and the place really looks like home, alongside a centre of sporting achievement where Sport England send some athletes, its an impressive complex now. The one thing that I thought was a very nice touch was a memorial garden where fans could scatter ashes of lost loved ones and also have a small service.

The club had laid on a couple of ex-players, Alex Williams and Paul Lake to have some pictures taken with me, but to my surprise they had also set up the actual Premier League trophy and Charity Shield to have some pictures taken pitchside with! This completed a personal hat-trick as I had also laid hands on the real FA Cup in 2008 when Pompey had it so this week was turning out to be very special. Sarah in the Commercial dept was also going to arrange a signed certificate to commemorate my visit, which was a very nice and unique gesture.

The Manchester City Supporters Club had also set me up with a night in the Brittania Hotel in the city centre so I was well catered for before I started doing some serious walking to the North Manchester clubs, what a few days it had been and I was sure the welcome at clubs like Rochdale would be just as warm.

From the Emirates it was out of Manchester central to Oldham, a shortish walk. When I got there I had the fortune to meet the Manager Paul Dickov and what a pleasant experience that was. Dickov had a reputation on the pitch for being an unpleasant type and he always used to score at Fratton Park so he was particularly hated for that in PO4 but to my delight he couldnt have been nicer. Genuinely interested in my challenge he asked all sorts of quesions and signed my flag, me and my big mouth though almost spoilt it because I told him the last Manager to sign it was McInnes from Bristol City and they had endured a terrible run since!

“Dont say that!’ said Dickov but luckily we both laughed it off.

Another short afternoon walk took me to Rochdale and a chap called Ian was putting me up for a couple of nights at his home in Bury. Rochdale, Bury and Bolton are relatively close so I wasnt going to be clocking up too many miles again this week. When we visitied Rochdale the following morning Ian had secured a donation of £50 from the Rochdale Trust which was a nice surprise, we were shown round Spotlands by one of the only 3 staff that seemed to be working there, a lovely young lady called Leighanne. I felt sorry for her because the only way out to the stadium from her office went through some Gents loos!

Next stop a leisurely stroll to Bury which is a much larger town than Rochdale and I spent a nice afternoon chilling out in a pub before completing the walk to Gigg lane. Ian and I went to his local Duck Club, complete with Bowling Green, to watch the England friendly against Sweden with THAT Ibrahimovic goal and enjoyed a beer or two.

Forever Bury looked after me at Gigg Lane the next morning and gave me a good tour around the place, I also met an amazing ex-serviceman who had been severely wounded in Afghanistan in a mortar attack, it certainly put my efforts into perspective when you meet true heroes and the story of his bravery was astounding.

If you’d like to help visit www.soldierscharity.org which is a wonderful charity helping wounded servicemen, not as well known as Help for Heroes but just as vital.

Next Blog will be up soon, hope you enjoyed this one and if so please donate at www.justgiving.com/walkthe92

Look out for Charlie Ironingboard…Hissss!

Up Sir Stanley Mathews way I strode, the Brittania appeared in front of me against the grey sky. The day before I had walked from my base near Newport in Shropshire and enjoyed a nice stroll toward Stoke along some lanes and canals and the following morning I was dropped of by my fantastic hosts Pat and Phil and made my way into the reception.

I was shown round the whole place and Radio Stoke did an interview with me sat in the dugout, as they pointed out the seat for the manager had been hardly used due to the gaffer Tony Pulis spending the whole 90 mins on the touchline. Despite being a relatively new stadium Stoke have done a great job in making it home, it has a sense of history about it now and thats in no small part to Sir Stanley Mathews being paid tribute in much of it. Every club has its favourite son and Stoke have one of the best ever to play the game.

That evening I was due at Vale Park to see Port Vale take on Rochdale and I was the guest of a great Vale fan called Paul and hs wife. I went to the club to have a look around in the afternoon as it was just a 2 hour walk from Stoke and was surprised to find out that there isn’t actually a place called Port Vale! The Potteries themselves are made up of several towns and it was sad to learn that most of the iconic Ceramics companies had been shut down and bought up by far eastern companies. Of course, who wants pottrey made in the far east but called by the British names? I hope that the companies get to come back and bring much needed jobs to the area.

The game was lacking in quality to be honest, Vale had one player of class and that was their top goalscorer this season Tom Pope. He grabbed two goals and led the line well until a Vale player got a straight red for what I thought was a clumsy at best tackle and Rochdale took advantage to roar back to a 2-2 draw. It was again a bit odd being a neutral at a game but it was good fun none the less. I did another turn on Radio Stoke at halftime and it went well although they possibly didn’t like my joke about Rochdales striker Dele Adebola and my disbelief he was still plying his trade.

For some reason I had planned 2 days to get to Crewe from Port Vale so I was going to arrive in Manchester 2 days early but it did mean I had the opportunity to go and see Pompey play at Bury on the saturday, but more of that later, first I was visiting Crewe Alexandra. I stayed at one of the old hotels near the station which was very Victorian in style and showed the history od the town as a transport hub and gateway to the north via Rail. The club once again gave me a very warm welcome and showed me round the ground, its dominated by one large stand which, when you walk to the top, commands amazing views of the surrounding area. After a cup of tea and a chat with the staff I headed off towards Manchester through the Wichs whivh would be the last bit of real countryside I would see for a few weeks. I reached Altricham on the Friday night and settled dow into a hotel by the station to get a good nights rest before a day of football on the following day.

On Saturday I took the Tram to the centre of Manchester and after some breakfast I headed to Manchester Piccadilly to meet fellow Pompey fans arriving from London but also I met Manc Malc who had settled in that part of the world many years ago and who had also generously paid for a hotel in Bolton for me for the weekend. Once everyone had gathered we took another Tram to Bury to head to the famous Trackside Pub which is, as the name suggests, next to a rail line that carries Steam train services. It was fun, a quite gorgeous day weather wise and the smell of smoke in the air, amazingly I have never been near a Steam train before and it was a pleasure to see one up close for the first time.

So, off to Bury, a ground I would walk to later in the week, to see Pompey play. Bury had so far had a very tough season and were in the bottom 4 so it was hoped that Pompey could get a badly needed win. It was quite the opposite though because Bury strolled to a 2-0 win via a dodgy penalty but they deserved it because Pompey were abject. I met some of the Bury fans for a drink after the game in their club including a lady called Sue from their Supporters Society called Forever BurySue who were arranging my visit to Gigg lane later that week.

Malc and I along with his friend Big Al who we shall call Charlie Ironingboard (a fake hoolie name given to him to wind up some local fans whilst on an England trip’ dont mess with Charlie Ironingboard!) headed to Bolton to get some food and then head to a pub to meet a friend of Malcs called Critch at his local, the landlord was leaving and there was a bit of a shindig. I got quite drunk and forgot that I had an interview with Sky Sports Radio the following morning, so when the alarm went off at 9am it was a bit of a shock and I found out I couldnt actually do more than squeak, when the call came in I said I had a cold to allow for my very croaky voice.

Later that day I headed back to Altrincham to finish the walk to Old Trafford and I was joined by the Barretts which made a nice change to have some company. We followed the canal which winds its way into Manchester stopping briefly at a PC World to replace my broken tablet (lesson learnt, dont buy cheap crap from China…) and we reached Old Trafford in time for some grub, so off to a Mexiacan restaurant we went, thanks to the Barretts for my dinner!

What a day the next day was, I’ll tell you all about it in my next update.

WWW.West Midlands

West Brom was shut on Sunday last.

Not surprising really seeing as they were in Newcastle playing and it had not been possible to setup me going with the Baggies fans to St James Park, probably for the best as it might have cost an arm and a leg even on an official coach. So as the rain came down and I took some pictures of the outside of the ground I took a chance and went to the Reception anyway. Inside was just one security guard but as it happened he was a lovely fella and, after hearing my tale, he locked the front doors and escorted me inside to take a few pictures of the inside of the ground. Top bloke.

From there it was about an 8 mile walk to Walsall, the rain was coming down harder but the walk was fairly straight forward. The Walsall Trust had kindly booked me into the Bescot Hotel right next door to the ground but just before I arrived I saw an iconic building that everyone that has ever driven the motorways around Birmingham has seen.

The RAC control building.

Of course you would have seen the Bescot as well, but I was particularly excited by walking past this iconic landmark. A chap called Steve Davies from the Walsall Trust had arranged to meet me at the Hotel in the evening and we had a good chat about Trust stuff and how things were going for our respective clubs. He was very honest and said that he did not se the Pompey Trust succeeding in the long term in returning Pompey to its former glories, I disagreed of course, but I guess a lot of other clubs fans perhaps share that view and will be watching with interest.

Walsall were very accomodating the next morning and I was onto my third W club in a row, Wolverhampton, which was just a few hours down the road from Walsall. I stayed in the Britannia Hotel, a famous Hotel in the town centre, but getting in wasn’t as straight forward as it should have been. I went to the Reception to ask if they could do a cheap room for me and the receptionist looked rather confused by my asking, but she phoned the Manager anyway who, after some thought, flatly refused. How very kind.

Undeterred I asked what the cheapest rate was and the answer was 40 quid, I enquired about the sign behind saying “Single rooms from £29″ and was told an unblievable answer “Oh thats online only, we cant do that on the desk”

So, slightly gobsmacked, I sat in reception and booked a room over the internet on my phone and returned to the receptionist with the booking number but still I had to wait another 60 minutes for the damn booking to arrive. What a farce.

That evening I spent a nice 3 hours in the Billy Wright bar in town nervously watching Pompey throw away a draw against Sheffield United, plus ca change.

I headed to Molyneux the next day and it being Half Term there was a kids event on so, despite me not previously being able to contact them, I announced myself at reception and was kindly helped out by the Supporters Liason Officer who got me photos with the mascots and allowed me in the stadium to get some great photos of the place.

Next stop Shrewsbury but on the way I was being put up by my best friends parents who are the most wonderful people I have ever had the privilege of knowing. They live in a lovely Shropshire village and over the next week they looked after me as I made my way around Shropshire.

Adrian and Marcus from the Shrews Trust had got in touch and both had agreed to meet me when I got near the town. The previous day I had walked to within 4 miles of the Town to a place callec Atcham, a great walk which took in the historic village of Ironbridge which, as the name suggests, has the very first Iron framed spanning bridge in the world and the local area is known as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution for the innovative Ironworks that had started there. So Adrian and Marcus met me at Atcham the next morning and whilst Marcus took photos alomg the route, Adrian and I walked to the new stadium, Greenhous Meadow, that Shrewsbury Town call home.

The club were very welcoming and delighted to see me, I was given a tour of the stadium which included the concourse areas that had recently been decorated with pictures and a great mural that was designed and painted by a local school to brighten up the normally drab concourse areas. This had been achieved with lots of help from the Shrews Trust, so yet another example of a fan organisation working well with its Club.

The club themselves also put me up in a nearby hotel and I was very much looking forward to attending an Ale festival in town that evening, but I was laid low by an upset stomach so stayed at the Hotel instead of sampling some of the local Beers. A real shame.

The next day I left the Hotel and started the trek to the Potteries, Marcus met me with his son and we had a good chat about Trust life. Shrewsbury had been one of the nicest places I have visited so far, this Walk is really starting to be enjoyable and as I head to Manchester I am sure the clubs and stories will come thick and fast.

Stay tuned.

I ain’t fraid of no Ghost

Its been an interesting few days, firstly in Coventry and then in Birmingham. The weather is definitely changing rapidly and the Autumn leaves are raining down wherever I go. I am not sure why but it seems only days since I noticed that the leaves were first changing colour and now they are dropping to provide me with a yellow and brown carpet as I walk, perhaps its always that quick or maybe the odd weather this year has contributed.

As I strolled through Coventry city centre on my way to the Ricoh stadium I was stopped by three young people with some sound recording equipment, they told me they were from the University studying Journalism and could they ask me a question. I agreed and thought to myself what matter of import could they want my opinion on? National topics or perhaps my insight into the Savile scandal or the US Elections? The question came….

Have you ever seen a Ghost?

I was speechless for a few seconds before guffawing a No. They then asked if I believed in Ghosts and I gave a lengthy answer about being an atheist therefore I didn’t believe in a spirit that perhaps could become a Ghost. The disappointment in their faces told me I wasn’t going to feature heavily in their work.

I had a great time in Coventry, the club themselves were very generous with their time and I was hosted for two nights by the Bond family. I discovered I am utter rubbish at FIFA13 even though I narrowly beat Harry over two legs, he let me play online and a 4-0 drubbing convinced me I should not play again without a lot of practice. Peter and Katrina treated me like one of their own, I can’t thank them enough for their hospitality.

That was mirrored when I got to Birmingham, Dave Farrell from the Blues Trust arranged for me to be hosted in the hotel around the corner from St Andrews and he and his lovely wife gave me dinner at their house before returning me back to my hotel room. It was a shame I didn’t get to see much of Birmingham City, they operate a 28 day policy for notification for charity requests, it seems that not every club has the time for common sense but with my usual wit and charm I asked to see someone from the Media department whilst I was at the club and he kindly took me pitchside and arranged for a promotional story. The club itself is in a bit of trouble and in limbo, the Blues Trust has a real challenge in trying to get fan involvement but with people like Dave driving it on I am sure that they will do good things in the coming months and years.

There isn’t a place in England or Wales that you can’t find a decent Pompey fan and Birmingham is no different, John Lish was my next host and we had many conversations about the state of the club, the Pompey Trust and football in general. I was due at Aston Villa on Saturday and they were playing Norwich at home in the lunch time SKY kickoff so I knew it would be difficult for the club to do much. My thanks go to Debbie Sly of the AVFC Community dept for securing me a complimentary match ticket. It was odd being a neutral at the game, I marvelled at the noise of the Norwich fans but was also quite shocked at how quiet and inert the Villa fans were. The side was struggling and the lack of support was quite shocking except at one point in the first half when, on the point of the 19th minute, all the Villa fans stood up and applauded for a full minute, this was in support of “Stan” who is the Villa player Stiliyan Petrov who is fighting leukemia. It was quite impressive to be honest and touching.

After the match I took a stroll across to West Bromwich to fulfil that part of the walk and in the evening John and I headed to a local curry house to enjoy a meal and more chat which was great fun as social evenings have been few and far between the last couple of months.

Next Blog will contain tales from West Brom, Walsall and Wolves, W tastic!

Not really much of an update. Sorry…..

I am now out of Wales, it has been a terrific couple of weeks touring the South of the Principality and I have certainly met some characters and without exception everyone has been very generous. The scenery has been well worth some of the tough hills I had to drag myself up and the weather has also been very kind to me, it must all go very wrong soon I fear.

This past week I have been walking from Swansea to Cheltenham, 90 odd miles in 5 days at a pace of around 15 miles a day traversing the Heads of the Valleys road passing along the south od the Brecons. I saw plenty of Welsh towns and villages like Ebbw Vale and Brynmawr but one place that I was very keen to visit was a place called Tredegar.

I was born in Tredegar Road in Southsea 44 years ago and have always had a fascination for the place that shared the name of the road I was born in so I had a good couple of hours exploring arond the town. To my shame I had no idea it was the birthplace of Aneurin Bevan, the father of the NHS amongst other political achievements, so it was very interesting seeing all the references to his life and the NHS that he created.

The countryside on the way back into England was stunning, especially a stretch from Abergavenny to Monmouth where I spent 10 miles walking on an old rail line around a mountain which had been turned into part of the National Cycle Network, it was a shame they hadn’t reused the tunnels which stood empty and closed, considering the amount of time and effort it must have taken to cut through the mountains it seems madness not to try and reopen them for some purpose.

On the way to Monmouth I got what I thought at the time was a nice surprise, my friend Steve sent me a text to enquire when I was getting to Monmouth, my first thought was that he was possibly in the area and was keen to meet me and I got quite excited.

I was wrong.

He wanted me to look at a Camper Van he was thinking of buying! The height of bloody cheek, especially when he told me what time I had to be there to view the Van. I’m walking round the country to raise money for charity, not to provide a vetting service on vehicles as I go round!

On Friday I finally completed my latest long stretch and arrived in Cheltenham, as usual the club themselves were very hospitable and showed me around Whadden Road. I was supposed to visit them on Saturday but they were playing away at Bradford and there would be no one actually at the club so I had a dilemma, do I have a day twiddling my thumbs in Cheltenham or do I do something else?

On Thursday the news about the Pompey Suppporters Trust being chosen as preferred bidder to buy Portsmouth Football Club and as a part of the Trust Board I was naturally very excited so I made the decision to head back to Pompey for 36 hours to see Pompey play Shrewsbury Town. So Friday afternoon I jumped on a train and was back in Pompey by the evening, the following morning I spent time with my Sister and Mother and then headed to Fratton Park to help out at the Trust Bus and talk to some of the people who had helped the Trust get to the cusp of success. Frankly the game was so awful I spent much of the first half wishing I was walking along the road again, but somehow Pompey managed to win 3-1 and after a few beers and catching up with some friends the day was over and an early start this morning to get the train back to Cheltenham and head onto Coventry.

I had hoped that it would be a far more of a party atmosphere at the game, but perhaps everyone is just very tired of the whole thing, certainly the quality of the football is tough to take after some of the Internationals we have seen at Fratton in the last 10 years.

Hopefully my week in Birmingham will provide a bit more material to entertain you with, i’m visiting some interesting clubs so fingers crossed!

The Mountain and the Good Samaritan

Its been an eventful and rewarding weekend in South Wales and the Welsh hospitality has been absolutely heart warming. Sunday night was a particular highlight but more of that later in this Blog.

I made my way to Swansea via Barry and Bridgend with an overnight stopover in Port Talbot in the shadow of a mountain. I got to the Liberty stadium around mid afternoon on Friday and I was met by Alan Lewis who is on the Swans Trust board, he arranged an interview with Sky Sports News for me as they had been setup there to cover the Ospreys rugby game being held at the Liberty that evening. Sadly I don’t think it got broadcast so if anyone from Sky Sports is reading this I’d love to get some coverage from them to help with my fundraising.

Alan took me to Llanelli because I was being put up by a Swans fan, Peter Thomas, I must thank them both for their great hospitality and kindness shown to me, it makes this journey all the more rewarding to be looked after by Fans of the club I am visiting. The following day I had been invited to the Family Day at the stadium which was promoting the Centenary celebrations and also the launch of a new shirt range with six kits from years gone by. I had a great day joining in with the event and also meeting many of the Swans Trust board including Fan Director Huw Cooze who’s brains I picked on many subjects to do with my work with the Pompey Trust.

Swansea City also presented me with a signed football to raise funds for Prostate Cancer and I asked the Swans Trust to take it and use it at a future event to get the maximum amount of money for my cause, the Trust also gave a copy of their Centenary Book recording many fans memories of supporting Swansea City, a lovely present which I can’t wait to read.

And so to Sunday, I left the Liberty and headed towards the Heads of the Valley road to start the long route to Cheltenham, I stopped off at Aberdulais Falls and looked around a reconstructed Tin Plate factory which was very interesting and I recommend it if you are in the area. I took some advice from some National Trust people in the information centre and they sent me off to a campsite a few miles away and also said I could go across the the country and follow the old Roman road called Sarn Helen.

It didn’t go well.

The road was more like a rocky muddy stream and dragging my 5 stone pack up some steep slippery inclines was extremely hard work but as always when I finally got to the top, sweaty and knackered, there were some stunning views to be seen. But I hit a wired up gate at the top as well and with the weather looking grim I decided to head back down via another path.

So, 2 hours later I arrived pretty much back where I started and with nowhere safe to stay for the night. I headed on down the road hoping something would turn up and I came across an Inn, but when I went in and asked if they did accomodation the answer was a straight no. I ws pretty stuck, so I sat outside to have a rest and collect my thoughts about what to do next, as I was chcking the map to see how many miles I had to go and a possible place to stay a chap left the pub and asked me if I had sat outside a pub in a place called Skewen earlier that day, I said I had and noticed his dog sunning himself in the window. He quickly said that I should come with him back to the Pib and stay the night as he had a spare room, too tired to argue I agreed.

It was a great night, Kevin who was the good samaritan ran the Pub called the Travellers Well and not only did I not pay for a pint all night he even bought me a curry. The pub was full of what they called “Headers”, that may be either because they lived on the Heads of the Valleys or because they were all headcases, I am not sure I should comment. Everyone was very kind about my walk and interested about my reasons for doing it, so a disaster had been turned into a cracking night in a welsh boozer with generous people. All thanks to my Good Samaritan Kevin, cheers mate.

This morning one of the Barman called Wayne gave me a lift back up the road to continue my walk and he even treated me to a slap up brekkie as well, he only asked me one thing, he gave me a bracelet that he wore to commemorate a friend who did in Afghanistan from the 1st Queens Dragoon Guards.

I will wear it with honour as I continue my Walk, it continues to be eventful.