The great thing about today's instalment of the London Loop was that both the beginning and end points are some the mercifully easier places along the route to get to, being not too far from the lovely Wembley, my humble abode. In fact, at one point during today's walk I could even see the stadium.
Don't all get the magnifying glasses out at once.
The not so great thing was that most of today's walk was through woodland.
Now, don't get me wrong, I like the woods. Hanging about in the woods made up a great part of my childhood: playing badminton and getting frustrated when the shuttlecocks blew off course (at that point we hadn't quite realised that badminton was supposed to be an indoor game), searching for places to cross the river via stepping stones, running up vertical slopes and trying not to slide back down again. These were all fundamental experiences of my youth. Now, however, as a walker, the woods are nothing if not a constant disappointment to me.
For a start, they are not the same woods I scrambled around in as a child, but even if they were, I probably wouldn't be able to tell, as they basically all look exactly the same. A few trees here, a bit of mud there, a coarse track there and a few streams running through. Same-old, same-old. And when you have travelled a considerable distance to get to the said woods, you want them to be different. Perhaps one wood could be magical, with elves and flower fairies; another could be the home of the wicked witch/stepmother or whatever incarnation of evil the inevitably female villain was in Hansel and Gretel. You know, the one who had the house made of sweets. Another one could even be home to the three bears, of Goldilocks fame, and you could wander in and eat their porridge.
Given that most woods I've come across are pitifully short of toilets or facilities providing food and beverages the latter would be particularly appealing. Even if porridge is basically just a fancy middle class name for the gruel that used to get served up in Victorian workhouses, which has now been reinvented as a healthy breakfast option sold in little tubs in such normally respectable establishments as Costa Coffee.
Anyway, you get my drift. I have yet to meet Hansel, Gretel, the Three Bears, the Big Bad Wolf or even a flower fairy. Woods are boring.
Fortunately, however, these were at least well signposted so I couldn't get lost. Although there were a few dangerous moments with mud where I thought I was going to need to call the coastguard to winch me out with a crane as I sank deeper into it, never to be seen again.
Beware. It may look innocuous, but dangers lurk beneath. And I don't mean the Big Bad Wolf.
There were also the inevitable hair-raising encounters with the animal kingdom, which have a horrible way of sneaking up on you when you least expect it. You come to a stile, leading into a field, relieved that you are finally, quite literally out of the woods, and can see things other than trees again and what do you know, there's a field full of horses.
Completely unguarded, unfenced, possibly about to kick you to death, HORSES.
They may look harmless here, ladies and gents, but I had to walk RIGHT PAST THEM. What if they had started neighing? What if they had reared up? What if they had got spooked and started running after me in a great herd???? Yes folks, I could have been killed. You're all lucky I'm still here to tell the tale.
The highlight of today's walk, however, which narrowly beats my miraculous escape from certain death at the hands of a field of horses, was that I actually met another walker. Yes, met AND had a conversation with! I honestly thought I was the only person who randomly goes on a jaunt on their own through the woods and across fields for no reason at all of a weekend. No reason at all. No dog to walk, no children to entertain, no group of walkers with walking poles to hang out with (shame. They always seem to know where to find the toilet stops). Just completely on their own, AND (this is even rarer) under the age of sixty-five! Yes, a young walker. Now I hope it's not too presumptuous of me to continue to place myself in the "young" demographic, but by the standards of the walking world, I am so young it's a miracle I can survive outside the womb. And yet now, here was another person just like me, striding across a golf course in hiking attire with a London Loop guide book glued to his hand.
The Other Walker stopped briefly to compare guidebooks and then challenged me to a race to the finish, albeit one I had to politely decline on account of the unfair disadvantage I had of carrying around another human being inside of my person (well, I hope it's a human being. It looked sort of like one in the scans. Difficult to tell though at that age).
Anyway, I think we can categorically confirm that The Other Walker did beat me, despite my catching him going the wrong way and having to backtrack slightly further along the route. I didn't find his rotting carcass in the field with the horses, having been kicked to death by rampaging equine monsters. Nor did I have to fish him out of the mud, despite his not wearing wellies, unlike me (prepared for every eventuality). Thank goodness for that. One would hardly want one's walk to be littered with the bodies of those who've gone before. I imagine that would be slightly off-putting.