Wayne has a bit of a habit of making drunken plans. He has a beer or two, gets excited, and by the morning we find ourselves with notes in the diary that we didn’t quite expect. That said, his latest Peroni fuelled arrangement turned out to be a great one.
It was because of one too many drinks a few weeks ago that led to us pulling on our trainers on Saturday morning at 7.30am for a chilly start at Hampton Court Palace. We would be joining Wayne’s friends Chris, Brian and Vicki for the Five Palaces Challenge; a 22 mile walk from Hampton Court to the Tower of London, via Kew Palace, Kensington Palace and Banqueting House.
The sponsored walk raises money for MacMillan, and as a charity I’m currently experiencing the work of, I couldn’t think of a better cause.
We made our way through the sleepy Surbiton streets to Hampton Court, just in time to take some photos of the deserted palace sparkling with early morning dew. We were tired, cold, unsure if our untrained legs would actually make it, but SO determined to give it all we had.
Hampton Court – Kew Palace (approx 10.5 miles)
We started our journey along the river from Hampton Court to Kingston, reaching Kingston Bridge much sooner than I thought we would. Wayne made the joke of jumping on a bus towards home (at least I think he was joking!) and we carried on towards Teddington Lock. This is a walk we have done before; on those midweek Summer evenings when going to pub feels much less sinful when you throw in a couple of miles wander along the river first, and being familiar with the route made the time pass really quickly.
We walked on to Richmond, another section of the river we know pretty well, and I was only a little bit envious of the people enjoying a leisurely brunch in the early Autumn sunshine. It was at this point that we had a long conversation about how much we wanted a Bills breakfast.
Two miles later, we were at the check point at Kew Palace; ten miles down, eleven to go!
Kew Palace – Kensington Palace (approx 6.5 miles)
Although shorter than the last, we had been warned that this stretch was the part that would feel like the longest, and in a way it did. Having said that, I really loved the transition from the quiet, riverside paths to the metropolitan sights and sounds of the more central London boroughs.
We walked through Mortlake, Barnes, and on to Chiswick, where we seriously contemplated stopping in a pub. The sun was shining, the beer gardens were filling up, and the thought of a cold, crisp glass of white wine was almost too tempting to ignore. But on we went! I think the Chiswick riverside has to be one of my favourite stretches of the Thames; I got to have a nose at some of the most beautiful riverside apartments and stroke many a friendly dog. Happily wagging tails always make walks easier, don’t they?
The tough bit came when we reached Hammersmith, and the scenery turned less than pretty. It was around here that my legs started aching, my feet started hurting, and the realisation that we still had to trek across central London set in.
It wasn’t long, however, before we swapped the harsh, grey buildings and the sound of car horns for the pretty conker trees of Holland Park, and soon enough Kensington Palace was in sight.
Kensington Palace – Banqueting House (approx 2.5 miles)
After a much needed stop for coffee and cupcakes (any charity event where they provide carrot cake cupcakes is just fine by me!), a quick sock swap and a foot rub, we were off again. It felt surreal to suddenly be in the midst of a wide awake London, and dodging selfie taking tourists was definitely more of a challenge than it usually is, but at least knowing the route from here made it feel much more achievable.
We walked through Hyde Park, briefly lost the group whilst the boys took a million photos of a Heron (I think it was just an excuse to stand still!) and finally found ourselves at Horse Guards Parade.
We crossed through on to White Hall, and quickly had our paperwork stamped at Banqueting House, keen to get going on to the home stretch.
Banqueting House – Tower of London (approx 2.5 miles)
This part really was tough. Knowing that it really wasn’t that far didn’t seem to help at this stage. Have you ever stayed out all night, and made your way home in the early hours of the morning just as people are getting up and starting their usual morning routines? When the people you pass don’t know that you’ve been up all night and you feel really distant from the world around you? I sort of had the same feeling as we headed underneath Charing Cross and then Waterloo Bridge, wishing that the slow paced tourists knew how much my feet hurt, knew that I’d been walking solidly for 7 hours and that if they could just move out of my way I could reach the end sooner.
My irritable, Londoner mentality didn’t last long though, and as we got closer and closer to St Pauls, the excitement started to build again.
I’ve never been so relieved to see the chaotic tourist hub that is the Tower of London. The iconic building has never looked more impressive and welcoming as it did that afternoon. I don’t know if it was the late afternoon light, or the fact that we had all been picturing it for the last 8 hours, but the building itself seemed to be washed in a golden glow that made the feeling of success all the more real.
We raced (hobbled) inside, received our final palace stamp and picked up our medals, before practically throwing ourselves into the bar. I got my glass of wine – in fact, I had two. And a flapjack.
22 miles doesn’t sound like that much of a challenge; it isn’t a marathon, we didn’t have to run it, and it wasn’t a race. However the sense of achievement I felt on completion was exactly the same as any sporting event I’ve ever taken part in.
It also put things massively into perspective. We have it easy, we really do. Whether battling cancer or fleeing war torn countries, some people go through days, weeks, months of suffering yet still manage to come out smiling. If setting aside a Saturday to put our bodies through their paces can raise money and awareness for those who need it most, then I’ll happily take all the blisters my feet can handle.