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Pam Raises Awareness on the London Loop Walk

london-loop-publicityx200On one of my Sunday walks I noticed the London Loop symbol in Crane Park and on returning home looked it up on the Internet to find it was a route of interconnecting pathways spanning 150 miles around London. Liking a challenge I decided to walk the whole of the route on consecutive days to raise awareness of fibromyalgia. So on August 28th I set out on the first part of my walk.

 The experience has certainly made me aware of each of the travel companies around London, the woodlands and open spaces within the Greater London area, sometimes tucked away between housing estates or narrow avenues along canals and rivers. It has also allowed me to experience nagging pain, due to my knee complaining on the last 2 days, and how it can override all other thoughts.  However I did find when I had to concentrate on where I was going I managed to forget about it for a while!

There were times when I found I met people as if it were meant to be.  On several occasions I met someone who had never heard of fibromyalgia and thought that either they or someone they knew may have FM and be undiagnosed.  These were chance encounters on the train, in the woods whilst asking for a photograph and at the shopping centres.

 The fact that I was obviously dressed for attention made it easier to strike up conversations, but it is amazing that these chance encounters may have changed someone else’s life.  I must wear my awareness wristband and fleece as often as possible now, so people will ask.  Perhaps I will have to keep a few leaflets in my bag wherever I go!  I don’t think I can wear that dress every day though.

The first day of my walk went well, 11 ½ miles with an awareness break in The George in Bexley. Patsy Baker, who joined me for the awareness in Bexley as well as many others throughout the fortnight, and I met some very interested people in a lovely atmosphere.  The chance encounter here was with a man starting a centre for people with chronic conditions to become fitter and more active.

The beginning of the walk was by the side of the Thames estuary starting in Erith and walking along the earth embankment for much of the way, with the Dartford Bridge clearly visible in the distance. It was a varied walk going through industrial areas to start and then alongside the River Cray through parkland and woodlands and through Crayford and Bexley to arrive in Sidcup.

Day 2 started with a paddle through a puddle at the underpass so I started with wet feet, but it helped cool down the blisters from day 1.  Most of the day was through woodland and parkland and I saw a tiny field mouse on the path... that I thought was a snail at first it was so small.  Right on cue the downpour arrived at the awareness venue and Patsy and I took cover in the car.  It didn’t last too long and I was able to continue in the dry, but it meant very little custom.  However I did meet with two medical professionals who were interested in finding out more.

The walking on day 3 was very similar to the previous day, but this time the awareness venue was at the Wellbeing Centre in Selsdon, where we were made very welcome.

Pam in the rosé gardenOn day 4 more beautiful countryside walking to the Good Companions pub at Hamsey Green, where information was left at almost every shop in the village and I meet two people who knew someone with fibromyalgia.

Day 5 was a day of many pavements and not so much countryside, but lovely sunny weather. The highlights were smelling lavender while walking through a field of horses then climbing a stile into the lavender field and the lovely Oaks Park with its scrumptious cakes at the cafe and brilliantly colourful gardens.

Day 6 followed the Hogsmill River the whole way from West Ewell to Kingston, so not much road walking. I saw a kingfisher, heron and grey wagtail within the first 10 minutes of walking.  On reaching Kingston centre the river was full of fish, some of them quite large.

The awareness at Shakeaway in Kingston was quite busy, with one teenager wondering whether her brother had fibromyalgia.  The double banana milkshake they gave me was delicious as well.  Thank you.

For the start of day 7 I could walk to Crane Park as this was the nearest to home and was where my first encounter with the London Loop took place.  The route followed the River Crane even when it left the park and even though it changed its name in places.  A kingfisher swooped ahead of me for a while and I startled a heron who hadn’t heard me coming above the noise of the planes from Heathrow.  There was the mixture of large open spaces like Hounslow Heath and Cranford Park with narrow sections of woodland next to the river running through industrial areas.

On day 8 the walk followed the Grand Union Canal, which was very busy with narrow boats and several large marinas. The most interesting place was the old mill house where the river flowed under the house as it did when it turned the mill wheel. Awareness in the busy Uxbridge town centre was done by asking the shops to display leaflets as we could not find anywhere that would let us set up a display stand.

Day 9 had only a smattering of rain, but otherwise just right for walking. The scenery consisted of a mixture of open rolling countryside and mature woodland, with the upmarket housing estate, Moor Park, deemed a conservation area, because it was developed by Lord Leverhulme.

On day 10 I was walking along the northern section of the loop and encountered large stretches of managed woodland and open space as well as busy main roads and the M1.  Also there was a contrasting view of the huge expanse of water at the reservoir at Aldenham with the picturesque pond of Stanmore Little Common.

The rain got me on day 11 and waited until I was way out in open country.  I did find a useful oak tree that didn’t leak too much for the worst of it and the ominous black clouds had given me notice to unpack the wet weather wear, so not too bad.

The canal was my route for most of day 12, this time the Lea Navigation.  Here I met some tiny ponies through the fence and a family of swans with six nearly grown cygnets.  I also saw a cormorant, but he wouldn’t keep above water long enough for me to take his picture.  Awareness was done on the move leaving leaflets at pubs and shops along the way.  I think I was raising awareness about the loop itself as well as many people did not know it passed outside their premises!

I changed my plans for day 13 when I realised the buses were an hour and a half apart at my original stopping place.  This gave me a shorter day, but a longer day 14.  The lunch time venue was then beside a lake full of wildlife although not far from busy Chingford.

In Havering Country Park on day 14, the giant redwoods formed an impressive avenue. As I was admiring these a deer shot across the path.  It was not one I had seen before and have since discovered it was a Muntjac.  So two introduced species seen in the same moment. The extra miles began to have an effect on my right leg and I was glad to be on the train at the end of this section and have some time to stretch out before it started moving off.

End of the london Loop walkThe last day was tough as my calf was very sore right from the start. The first half of the day was through countryside, with a mixture of farming and woodland. The last awareness at Tesco's in Rainham was very busy with shoppers, and Patsy and I managed to give out leaflets and speak to some of them, one of whom took a leaflet and then returned to say he thought he might actually have fibromyalgia.

The latter half was along the side of the Thames, thankfully very flat with a cooling breeze.  Looking across the water I could make out the landmarks of the first day's journey on the opposite bank and there in the distance again was the Dartford Bridge.

I was very relieved to arrive at Purfleet Station which marks the end of the London Loop.

There are parts of the walk that I would want to visit again and spend more time looking around and others that I felt were only included to join up the sections, but overall this was a worthwhile expedition.  I feel my fitness level has improved, so a personal bonus there.  More importantly more people are aware of fibromyalgia and more information is available in the areas I walked through.

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