After Oliver Cromwell and his Roundheads had claimed victory and put an end to the second English Civil War, they had the tough job of rounding up the now fleeing Royalist army and its generals. Top of their wanted list was the striking King Charles II, standing at 6ft 2in, he was well above the average height of the time, which reached a lowly 5ft 6in, of the time. This coupled with his long dark hair and his kingly ways meant he stuck out like a sore thumb compared to your run-of-mill 17th century Englishman. Cromwells desire to capture and kill King Charles, as he had his father, was so strong that he promised £1000.00 to whoever could bring him the King. This was an inordinate amount of money for the time and once the king found out the price on his head, he knew he would have a hard time finding people to trust and help him evade capture. Cromwell predicted that the King and his mostly Scottish army would attempt to flee north to the safety of Scotland. So, he tactically placed troops all over the country, blocking possible escape routes and further narrowing the chances that the King would ever make it across the channel to the continent
It was at Boscobel House, north of Worcester, that the King met the first of many ‘peasants’ that would help him on his great escape, Richard Penderel. Richard Penderel and his family became devoted to the king’s cause, helping to shave his hair, teach him to walk and talk like a commoner, all in an effort to disguise the very noticeable royal upbringing he had received. It was also Richard that accompanied Charles on his first attempt at escape, heading west by foot aiming to cross the River Severn into Wales and so onto a Welsh port. However, on arriving at the Severn they found it heavily guarded by Roundhead troops and were forced to turn back to Boscobel House. I’m sure this was a great annoyance to the king and nearly 4 centuries later it has become a greater annoyance to another 6ft 2in, dark-haired, slightly less kingly man. As it means that there is an annoying 40-mile loop in the Monarchs Way, and nothing is worse than having to walk back on yourself. Well maybe having to walk back on yourself with the whole country trying to find and kill you, but you get my point.
After the calamity that was my first trip, I was eager to get back out on the Way and put all I had learnt into practice. This time I headed out armed with; trousers, a tent, the right gas (I checked), a fancy new GPX app to make navigation quicker and a rather dashing, turquoise, St. Barnabas t-shirt. So, after waking up at 5 am, taking the 4-hour train journey back to Codsall and walking the short distance to Oaken I found myself back at the same phone box I had taken shelter in a couple of weeks back. Except for this time, the sun was shining, and I was feeling much more confident, motivated by the incredible generosity and support I had received since my last trip. I was ready to get walking.
Shortly after setting off, while still passing through Oaken I was greeted by the sight of Lou and her, a slightly scared but majestic, horse named Leo. They were standing dead still in the middle of the road. As I approached, I did as I always do when passing horses, I stopped using my trekking poles, slowed my pace and prayed the horse wouldn’t go rogue and decide to kick out at the soft-looking southerner wandering through his town. You see, I like to think of myself as a bit of a maverick, scared of nothing, always coming to the rescue when a spider finds itself lost in someone’s home. Gently picking the 8-legged critter up with my bare hands before realising it out of the nearest window, demonstrating both my fearlessness and mercy. But horses, they’re different, I just don’t trust anything that lets people willingly ride them. Irrational? Maybe. But it needs to be said that the Wildlife Trust names horses as being directly involved in more deaths than any other animal in the U.K. Being responsible for ‘about’ 5 deaths a year. As I cautiously passed by, Lou shouted down from her high mount asking me to guide the timid horse around a road sign he had seemly deemed unpassable. Now I would have liked nothing more than to of passed this potential killer and carried on my merry way. But never one to leave a damsel in distress I of course offered my assistance. To be honest, all I had done was stand by the road sign, making sure I was out of kicking distance and took no more than 4 steps before Leo’s confidence came rushing back and he and Lou were off again. Not before the lovely Lou had given me her number asking me to text over the details of the walk so she could donate to thank me for my masterful horse whispering.
After all that horsing around, I quickly covered the 5.5 miles of mostly road walking to Boscobel House. English Heritage currently runs the house and charge an ambitious £8.10 for admission. Now I was excited to see the famed Royal Oak and arm myself with a great bit of pub trivia, but I was not about to pay to see a tree, ‘royal’ or not. I decided my best option was to stroll in confidently and ignore all the signs telling me to pay. Cheeky as it was, I’m glad to say this worked a treat. After a quick stroll around the outside of the rather splendid, black and white, Tudor style house, I headed around the back through the well-maintained parterre gardens to where the famed tree stands.
The current ‘Royal Oak’ is a descendant of the original tree Charles sheltered in. Souvenir hunters destroyed the first one after the king’s return in 1660, at which point the story of his escape became famous. Standing behind two fences the current oak is in a sorry state after being struck by lightning during a storm in 2000, with the third generation already planted next to it. To be honest, seeing the tree was particularly underwhelming, after all, it was just a tree. But knowing I would likely never see it again I decided to have a quick rest on one the benches nearby and snack on a couple of cereal bars and enjoy the sunshine, all as I stared at a tree.
Heading off from Boscobel House I was in good spirit, the weather was exceptional, the path was no longer overgrown with nettles and I was feeling fresh. I had a quick stop at the ruins of White Ladies Priory, a 12th-century nunnery that Charles spent a short time hiding in, before setting off for a pleasant afternoon of walking. Following a series of public footpaths and bridleways framed by stunning views across the Shropshire countryside, I found myself ticking off the miles rapidly. I had a fleeting visit to the old village of Tong as I hiked onwards. Passing meadows of wildflowers and briefly being followed by a family of young pheasants I felt like a proper rambler. That was until I soon found myself emerging into an urban housing estate in Telford.
It was 7 pm and not much daylight was left so I upped my walking pace, even though my legs were sore from the more than 20 miles I had walked that day already. I needed to get back out in the sticks and find a spot to camp before it was too dark, and everything becomes a hassle. After another 30 minutes or so hard walking, I found myself approaching something called the ‘Great Hay Incline’. After a very sweaty day walking seeing the words ‘great‘ and ‘incline‘ in the same sentence didn’t bring me any joy. Quickly scaling the incline and deciding it wasn’t that great, I found myself back in the wooded countryside and after another ten minutes or so stumbled onto a grassy clearing in the trees and decided to make camp.
It was a warm evening and the sun was setting as I pitched my tent. With the tent pitched and most of the light gone, I decided to strip down to birthday suit for a quick baby-wipe-shower. There is something particularly freeing about being isolated in your bit of the wilderness, no one else around, naked, wiping yourself clean with baby wipes. Heaven on earth if you ask me. After a successful day walking, covering just short of 25 miles, I was feeling much more positive about this mammoth walk I had taken on. I had learned my lesson after my calamitous first trip, certain to not make the same mistakes again. As I sat in the porch of my tent, cooking up some instant mashed potato, listening to owls hooting in the woods around me, I felt rather triumphant. Maybe this walking malarkey isn’t that hard after all.
I slept incredibly that night and woke up feeling surprisingly springy, apart from a little niggle in my left knee I felt fresh and ready to go. After a cup of coffee and a couple of cereal bars, I packed up and was back on the way before 6 am, aiming to make a train at 3 pm from Bromsgrove a little over 20 miles away. I spent the whole morning walking without seeing a soul. It was bliss. Most of the Way was through grazing areas, which is pretty standard for the public right of ways, so I am used to the company of livestock. Usually, you feel like you have developed some sort of agreement with the cows or sheep whose field you have entered. You pass through quickly, they stare at you intently, and that’s just how it goes. However, this age-old pact was broken when I passed through a field, which as well as being home to some arrogant sheep, also had a derelict and abandoned farmhouse in one corner. I admit I was the first to break the agreement, veering of the footpath to have a closer look at this mysterious house. For some reason unknown to me, the sheep took great offense to my nosey behaviour. Immediately a gang off 7 or so sheep set upon me, with one brave bugger getting to close for comfort, charging at me before backing off at the last second. I raised my trekking pole and gave them that kind of look that says, ‘I’m a man willing to hit a sheep with pole and not have a second thought about it’. This bluff made them a bit more sheepish and gave me time to slowly back away from the house making sure to stay ready for action just in case it all kicked off. They stared menacingly at me from in the front of the house the whole time, guarding it against any future exploration. I’d never met a guard sheep before, and I didn’t think them capable, but these sheep done their job well. Therefore, I respectfully left their field and carried on walking.
As I was walking a big loop in the Way I quickly found myself on the path from Boscobel House I had walked the previous day. As I’ve said I find this deeply annoying. I knew during this challenge I was going to walk a long way, but I had imagined every corner being a new, unexplored bit rural England ready for me to experience. Not a path and mediocre royal tree I had seen less than 24 hours before. That thought in mind, I quickly bowled passed Boscobel House and back into new territory for the last little leg to the station. The weather stayed great and compared to my last outing the walking was a lot easier going. After a swift stop for lunch and to give the legs a rest, I had arrived at the Union Canal by 2 pm. A light shower began to fall as I quickly covered my last few miles. As I turned off the canal, instead of following the King’s route, I headed half a mile in the other direction to Bromsgrove. This was only 2 minutes by train from Codsall, which is where I had started from the day before. I had walked 46 miles to get there.
To end, I just want to say a massive thank you to everyone who has donated so far. Since my last post, you guys have smashed my £625 target, raising £865 already. That’s mind-blowing. I can’t describe the lift it has giving me to keep walking even when motivation is low. I can’t thank you all enough. Honestly, it gets hard dragging yourself onto a train for 4 hours, to go walking for every hour of the day, after a week of work. This walk has consumed much more of my life then I expected, but I’m OK with that. Knowing it’s helped raise so much money for a great cause like St. Barnabas keeps me slogging away at the walking and the writing (though I am a little behind on this front). I know I’ve already hit my target amount but please don’t let that put you off donating. Come on, a pound a mile for 625 miles! In today’s climate surely a mile has got be worth 2 quid? Maybe 3, with Brexit coming who knows? But what I do know is that, coincidentally, £625 is the cost of one 24 hour stay at St. Barnabas’ In Patient Unit for one patient. At the end of this, it would be nice to think I’ve raised enough for somebody in need to have a comfortable stay, receiving the care they need for more than one day. All because I’m doing a silly walk. But for this thought to become a reality I need everyone’s help, so please do donate if you can or even just by sharing the story would help infinitely!
Cheers for reading,