Since returning from New Zealand a couple of weeks ago I had gradually become aware of the presence in the UK of Daryl May, a retired acoustics engineer in the aerospace industry. Last year Daryl walked from Lands End to John o’Groats; this year he returned to John o’Groats for the walk back to Lands End!
A quick look at some of the outdoor blogs, in particular Alan Sloman’s – he did LEJOG last year – reveals that Daryl is not alone in his outdoors venture this year.
I’d looked at Daryl’s well written and entertaining blog, and had read of his difficulties with a septic blister and a poorly ankle. He lives in Tampa, Florida, so unlike Alan last year he has few friends and family to visit and encourage him. But such folk do have an extended ‘family’, such as Ian Shiel, who recently intercepted Daryl on Beattock summit with hot soup and other goodies.
I’d noted Daryl’s route and surmised that I could intercept him myself today. Moreover, whereas I have hiked frequently in the Trough of Bowland to the east of the M6 motorway, I had never walked much of the section of the Lancaster canal between Lancaster and Preston. So here was my chance.
After many helpful exchanges with Ian, an experienced ‘end-to-end’er, I set off to find Daryl after stashing my bike in the back of the car. After getting covered with oil and dirt in the process I had a good feeling – ie the bike would not be needed!
And so it proved, the unmistakable figure of an elderly man in orange trousers was moving slowly out of Galgate on a footpath beside the A6 road, just loosening up after his sojourn at The New Inn. I had time to turn, park, boot up, and greet this ‘Hobson’, as Daryl sometimes refers to himself, just where a path leads from the A6 to the rather more peaceful towpath of the Lancaster Canal.
Luckily he agreed to come with me, and we set off over an iron gate securely fastened with barbed wire, across a muddy field in search of the canal. When we got to it, to my surprise, there was no easy access to the canal. The barbed fence and steep bank could have been negotiated but I think Daryl was relieved to avoid that in favour of walking a short way north to gain legitimate entry to the towpath where the waterway to picturesque Glasson Dock diverges from the main canal.
It was good to chat with Daryl. To him this is not a wilderness challenge involving high level long-distance routes such as the Pennine Way. It’s a personal challenge to reach Lands End in time to catch his flight home in mid May. So if he has to walk on roads, so be it. And he does need to do that in order to maintain his schedule, which after his delay due to injury in Scotland has left him with only a very small number of days off.
I’m sure he will enjoy more company over the coming days. His main journal page is here, and he is currently in Chapter 6.
The time flew past as we strolled down the canal, followed for some way by an attentive swan, with chaffinches, great tits and goldfinches in the hedgerows, and the occasional distinct bubbly musical song of a curlew in the fields.
Strategically placed benches helped Daryl rest his sore ankle, and where they were absent a grassy bank or stone steps could usually be found. And of course we scoffed Sue’s CCS (see here) along with our mugs of tea.
Lunch was taken on a bench just outside Garstang. I’d packed a few provisions and I think Daryl enjoyed the smoked salmon and cream cheese on freshly baked bread. Just around the corner in Th’Owd Tithe Barn, a characterful canalside pub dating back to 1710 and originally a tithe barn used for the storage of corn, pints of Strongbow and Cumberland Ale refreshed us for the afternoon.
Passing lots of quacking mallards, and the occasional barge, we continued south, closer now to the frighteningly fast inter city trains and the rumble of motorway traffic. It was very pleasant though, and I was disappointed to reach the edge of Bilsborrow, where the A6 provides a shorter route south than the meandering canal.
Whilst Daryl continued along the road for a couple of miles I explored a newly opened and vast Barton Grange Garden Centre before catching a bus back to Galgate and returning to pick up Daryl and provide him with food and lodging, with a promise to return him to the same spot the following morning.
It was indeed a very pleasant evening.
Here’s an overview of today’s route. I walked about 19 km in 6 hours including stops, Daryl did more than that.