The Heart of England Way - Planning

The Heart Of England Way
By Mark Walford

Route: From winter to spring
Date: Friday May 3rd 2013


A cunning plan ....

The 100 mile Warwickshire Centenary Way was completed and it had taken me through parts of my home county that I had never before visited, introducing me to fascinating and photogenic places which I would never have been aware of had I not decided to invest the time and effort to complete the journey. During the first few days, and also towards the end, the Centenary Way interwove with another local long distance path, their way-markers often sharing the same post or following the same pathway. The more I saw these way-markers for the Heart Of England Way the more I became curious about where they might lead me or where they all started from. Before the final few miles of the Centenary Way were completed I had already made my mind up to tackle this alternative route and had convinced my brother Colin to share the route with me. One hundred and three miles (give or take) in just over a week.
As we sat and had our final pint on the Centenary Way in the Royal oak at Whatcote, with winter drawing the short day’s walking to a dark and chilly conclusion outside, we hatched the plan for this adventure, sketching in a likely date of early May 2013.
The Heart Of England Way is about the same length as the Warwickshire Centenary Way but tends to keep to the quieter by-ways of the three counties it traverses, swiftly dipping in and out of the busier places rather than embracing them and with only the merest nod towards the industrial heritage of the Midlands. Apart from the first day, it maps its way across green pastures and coy little country lanes, It starts in Staffordshire, further to the north than the Centenary Way and finishes further down the country, taking a more determined route south, weaving deftly between the unseen conurbations of Birmingham and Coventry before heading for rural Gloucestershire. For some of the journey I would be on very familiar territory, having already visited sections of the route on the Centenary Way (and also via my regular local walking) but there would be many miles that I would not be familiar with, taking me down new roads and to new places.
Ultimately, after one hundred miles and three counties (plus one metropolitan borough) it would deposit us at Bourton-on-the-Water in the Cotswolds; one of my most favourite parts of the country. It all sounded very agreeable and so, with the plan formalised, I looked forward to starting the walk with a pleasant anticipation.
It all seemed like a long way away at that point and indeed as Christmas came and went and the months rolled by it remained a distant date and I concerned myself with other more pressing matters. And then, quite suddenly, it was a mere two weeks away and I realised two things: I hadn’t prepared physically and I hadn’t booked time off from work. The latter was easily remedied but on the former matter I had well and truly missed the boat. I hadn’t walked much after completing the Centenary Way and I was a few pounds heavier than I would have liked. In March, during a family party, my old friend Bod had sidled up and asked if he could join us for a few days on the walk to which I of course immediately agreed. Bod then told me about all the cycling he was doing and how well his gym work was progressing. I already knew that Colin was a regular jogger and worked out with his weights. I began to picture a sweaty blubbery version of myself toiling along with screaming leg muscles while my two walking companions marched resolutely ahead of me, dwindling into the distance before my dimming vision. It was no good. As usual (and probably by subconscious design) I had consigned myself to walking into fitness whilst on the trail.

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