Wednesday, 13 April 2016

When Your Feet Don't Work

Had a bit of a 'scare' yesterday. Actually no, it was more like a massive gigantic frightener! I decided to walk into town in an attempt to grab the last few bits for my walk. It's only a couple of miles or so, about a five mile round trip I figured. My boot insoles are a pretty harsh and unforgiving but generally brilliant as they keep my arches raised and the heels supported. After a long walk my arches do tend to feel a bit bruised, I suspect I've battered all cushioning out of the insoles over the past few years. Last week I bought myself some new 1000mile socks. They are thicker than the socks I ordinarily wear (being double-skinned) which makes my boots that bit tighter than usual, pressing my feet into the hard insoles as I walk. For some insane reason I figured I'd remove the insoles for the short walk into town. Prat.

Well, I made it about half a mile and had to sit on a wall for a few minutes...the familiar ache that is the precursor to shin splints was readily apparent. Shitbags. I walked another half a mile and had to rest my feet again. I spied a Superdrug and grabbed some gel inserts. They didn't really make any difference. My feet just kind of 'flap-flop-flap-flopped' as if they belonged to somebody else. I stared at them, flopping and flapping away like dead things. I hate flappy-floppy walkers, and now I was that person. And no matter how I tried to walk, they just kept on flapping. And flopping. What the heck?!?! By now my legs were starting to hurt up towards the knees so, like a real trooper, I jumped the bus into town....yep, and all the way back again. I live in mortal fear of shin splints, I had them from Shap into Scotland last time after the soles of my boots collapsed and my feet fell flat. NOT a fun thing and I'm not keen to suffer them again. Hence the bus rides. 

Anyway, that was yesterday. Today I went back into the New Forest to see if I'd done myself any lasting damage. Inserts back in place, arches supported, aches gone again. I stomped (softly) into them thar trees and hit the tracks once more. Phew...looks like I've gotten away with it. Last night I'd cunningly taken a sharp knife to the inserts to give my feet a touch more wiggle room without unduly affecting the support contour, I think it helped.

So today it was proper hot n ting! 13 degrees of gloriousness with butterflies and hoverflies all over the place. I was a little narked that despite plodding along miles of woodland edge I didn't see a single beefly. To be fair, I didn't see many bees either, other than lots of very small ones in Dandelion or Daisy heads. Presumably Lasioglossum, but I didn't take any away with me and I can't do them by eye (can anybody??)  

I did see plenty of these fellas though (yup all boys, the gals come out a tad later) in the open woodland near Bank. It's a Bibio, one of the so-called St Mark's Flies. I suspect it to be Bibio varipes or maybe B.lanigerus. Can't decide if the hind metatarsus is 3 or 4 times longer than wider, seems about 3.5 times longer than wide in the one I potted. The woodland habitat suggests varipes, but I'm not at all sure. Need a series for comparison. Or the females! 


Ambling on through the woodland I heard Redstart song several times and merrily grinned away at the two males I saw. I love Redstarts, they're just so damn gorgeous! I think the general rule of thumb here is 1 Redstart for every 50 Robins. I had seven Redstarts, needless to say Robins are hyper-abundant! Also had a good few Willow Warblers, the odd Blackcap and...you guessed it...Firecrests. 


Many years ago, when I had a flat muscular stomach and no grey hairs (it's true!), I spent six years living with a girl who had a horse. I spent a lot of time at the stables, hence I'm quite good at reading horse body-language. Note this pony's half-lidded eye, floppy bottom lip, ear position (and I don't mean 'on the side of the head' lol), that cocked hoof. This pony is SO laid back I think it's about to fall over! With that in mind, I figured it wouldn't mind if I checked it over for Horse Flatfly presence. I checked, no Horse Flatfly and the pony didn't even swish its tail at me. I left it, hoof still cocked and bottom lip about to drop off. 

I arrived at Blackwater Arboretum. Still no drinking water in the toilet block but I chucked cold tap water over my head and let the sun dry my hair. Bear Grylls taught me that one... I checked the time, 4:10pm. The last bus from Brockenhurst is at 5:48pm and I was quite a way away from the bus stop. I decided to get my marching head on and hardly stopped to look at anything of interest as I route-marched back through the woods, across Black Knowl and back into Brockenhurst. As it transpired, I made it in just over an hour and had a lengthy wait for the bus! Good to know, I guess. Here's the view looking back towards the woods from Black Knowl. Plenty of Buzzards over those trees but still no Goshawk.


As a postscript, I've just nipped to the loo and looking in the mirror I see that my face is sunburnt. If we enjoy a good summer I'm gonna be properly bronzed by the time I arrive home again. Bronzed, fit as fkk and a couple of stone lighter. Ha...I hope so anyway! I was wondering where to go with tonight's song. Now I know....







Saturday, 9 April 2016

Third Time Lucky?

Getting more and more excited by the day now! Won't be too much longer and I'll be off westwards to begin my Extreme End to End Challenge. But it would appear that I'm not the first to come up with the idea. Not even the second. After millenia of nobody attempting this before, in the summer of 2009 two men independantly decided to give it a go. The crazy mad buggers! 

Andrew Fairburn, a 52 year old grandfather from Banbury, kayaked, cycled and walked his way northwards from Bishop Rock Lighthouse in Scilly up to Muckle Flugga Lighthouse off of Unst at the top of Shetland. It took him just 27 days and he only used one ferry throughout (Orkney to Shetland). 

Stuart Walker, a 24 year old fell-runner from West Yorkshire, kayaked, swam, ran, walked and cycled his way from Pednathise Head in Scilly all the way up to the top of Orkney but had to retire early due to the prohibitive costs of shipping his ocean rowing boat up to the top of Scotland.

I feel slightly stunned. Here I am merrily planning to use a boat to take me to and from Pednathise Head, a ferry or plane back to Cornwall, a ferry from John O'Groats to Orkney, another ferry to Shetland and two more to get me onto Unst followed by a boat to Out Stack. What a flippin' charlatan! 

However, I really shoudn't feel too down-hearted. As it stands it would appear that nobody has yet been from Pednathise Head to Out Stack (geographically the extreme southern and northern points of Britain) in one trip. And on foot too, no namby pamby cycling for me (lol...) So I may still manage to accomplish something unique. Hats off to anyone who does the entire journey using just their own muscle power though. I swim about as proficiently as a breezeblock, my technique is atrocious. I could drown in a bath tub nevermind between islands out to sea. I'm ok in a kayak, but I've only ever been on a lake not the open sea. Maybe some other time...in another life! 

Here's my homage to Andrew and Stuart, with a little Northern Isles twist naturally...




Thursday, 7 April 2016

Tarptastic Times!

Been a while since the last post so here's a quick run down of what's been happening. Not a lot. Told you it'd be quick! 

I've been waging war with myself regards whether or not a tarp would be better than a tent. Traditionally I've always used tents, essentially they are brilliant apart from in hot weather (when they are great at baking you alive) but are less brilliant for stealth camping when you don't want to be seen. I have a 2-man tent which is both lightweight and a dream to put up, in fact it's the tent we used on my last LEJOG in 2012. But it is a complete bugger packing it away wet, putting it up still wet and getting into it - wet. 2012 was the year it rained, in case you forgot. 

So then I figured why not try a tarp? Ridiculously lightweight, versatile, ideal for stealth camping, takes moments to dry...hell yeah! So I ordered myself a 3x3metre DD Tarp (seems very highly rated by everyone who's ever reviewed one online). I have to say, the service was amazing and it arrived the day after I ordered it. 


My landlady is hilarious. She had no idea what it was, but took it anyway and explained to me how it would make a lovely cushion to sit on, an ideal kneeling pad, I could put my feet up on it, could use it to donk someone around the head with... I explained what it was amidst much "aaah" and "ooh" noises. Still not sure she really knew what it was afterwards, but she seemed pleased that I was happy with it. 

Anyway, one very obvious disadvantage of a tarp versus tent is that depending on the configuration used, spiders and mozzies and ticks are free to wander all over you during the night. From past experience I know that the two things that prevent me getting a good night's kip are not being able to stretch my legs out straight and having things run across me during the night. A tent is enclosed, I can shut the spiders and mozzies out. A tarp is wide open, plus there's no groundsheet. Hmmm. The solution, as I see it anyway, is to raise myself off the ground and get a mozzie mesh. Lots of tarp users utilise a hammock. This won't work for me - where would I hang a hammock on treeless moorland or on Shetland (where there are whole treeless islands)? So I need a collapsible campbed and a mozzie net to hang over it. Cool, I like that idea. Does away with sleeping on bumpy ground too.

I took my shopping list into town and got most of the required kit. Still to find a decent lightweight campbed, knife and a firesteel but I'm getting there. All that was needed now was to throw the tarp up and have a play! Cool...back into the New Forest I went. "I'm off to play cowboys and Indians with my tarp" I told my landlady. She advised against tying myself to a tree trunk in case I couldn't undo the knots...

I headed across Black Knowl seeing my first few Swallows of the year battling into the increasingly cool wind. The grey skies occasionally spattered drops of light rain. Two Wheatears were running across the short turf and a Willow Warbler sang from birch scrub. Poor buggers, bet they wished they'd stayed in Africa! 

Entering the wooded areas I wandered along and quickly nipped offtrack into a conifer plantation well away from any footpaths. I found a Badger sett with maybe a dozen entrances and followed their trails for a short while. Finding a suitably hidden spot, I opened up my tarp, grabbed some paracord and pegs and pretty soon knocked up the traditional apex configuration. Easy! 



This is a very basic configuration and takes very little time to chuck up. It's not especially great for sleeping under though - just look at the huge open areas! Better as a quick shelter in a rainstorm, or to get out of the sun on a hot day. Plus it's pretty useless if the wind switches direction as it will then act as a wind tunnel rather than baffle. Lowering the cross line will enable the sides to reach ground level if required. It's a handy configuration to use for collecting rainwater, just add tension to the middle two loops with a shortened guy line to form a valley, put your container under the edge and hey presto, water that's good to drink or wash with!



This is a nice sneaky configuration and ideal in stormy or windy weather. See how low it is to the ground? Here you run off two diverging lines of paracord from the tree trunk and peg them down. Then simply lay the tarp across the lines, pull it up to the tree and peg it out. Add internal height by tightening a guyline from the front ridge loop. I used a bungee to secure the leading edge of the tarp to the tree for a secure fit. In this instance the wind/rain will be coming from behind the tarp and will baffle straight across the upper surface leaving you snug and dry inside. Tons of room inside, but you can't sit up. This is a great design for bad weather and sneak camping, tying some local vegetation to the ridge loops will afford effective camouflaging.  

Right on cue it started to rain, haha I'm ready for ya! Ten minutes later it stopped and I broke down the tarp and tried out another design. 


This is effectively a raised version of the previous configuration, except I've simply bungeed the tarp to the tree instead of using paracord. Each side of the tarp has 5 fixing loops. Pegging out the 1st and 5th loops at the rear, then bringing the same loops at the front into line with loops 2 and 4 of the rear allows some slack at the front. With this slack you can add height. Again I've tightly butted the front edge with the tree trunk which means I can rest my back against the tree when sitting upright under the tarp. That may sound a bit trivial, but having something solid to lean against is a great back aid. Pegging out the rearmost ridge loop stops any sagging in the back end of the tarp and allows extra space inside.  You can easily fit two people plus kit into this configuration, front to back is over eight feet in depth. 

Happiness is a having a tree to lean on while a Firecrest sings above your head

Next up I figured I'd drop the back wall vertically and make something similar to a traditional ridge tent. This is a massively spacious configuration and probably the one I was happiest with. Plenty of room inside for three people (heh heh, I should be so lucky!) and high enough to sit upright most of the way towards the rear of the 'tent'. Bit of a swanky looking rear wall, looks almost like a bat wing!


Already I've had more thoughts and ideas regards different designs to try and various tweaks I could have done. But that's the great thing really, it will be an evolving process as the walk progresses. Shortcuts, better knot skills, quicker speed through familiarlty. Doubtless I'll make a few blunders too, but it's all part of the fun.

After I'd finished playing around with the tarp I had a bit of a wander through the forest. Not too many people out and about which was nice. Until I reached Rhinefield that is...every picnic table was covered in barbeque paraphernalia, drinks, cartons, coats, bags, bags and yet more bags, kids making dens under the trees, mums shouting, dads playing football, dogs everywhere. I plopped myself down at one table (lots of stuff piled on top but nobody actually present) and had a sandwich. I gave it all of about ten minutes before quitting. 

Not a very high mileage today, probably about nine or ten miles, but it was fun to play with the tarp!

Tonight's song is an absolute belter 'n a half! This is the opening track to Massive Attack's Blue Lines, released exactly 25 years ago tomorrow. She's probably NOT singing about spiders and mozzies but the title is apt and, let's face it, I'll take any excuse to play this track. That bassline is just so damn menacing. This is Safe From Harm. Enjoy!



Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Cockchafer Shenanigans

It was high time to get back out there again after a few distractions over the past couple of days. I decided to return to Brockenhurst and repeat Saturday's walk, but with extensions to rack up a bit more mileage. Plus I remembered the camera this time! 

The walk across Black Knowl was just as lovely as before. Unsuccessful scanning for high flying Goshawks revealed flocks of small birds almost constantly flying over at height. Mostly pipits and finches by the looks of it, all heading northwards. No hirundines yet, no repeat White Wagtails on the deck and no sign of any Wheatears either. There were lots of Robins and a few Stonechats though. With the temperature hitting 12 degrees I was really hoping for some butterfly action and I wasn't to be disappointed. First sighting was of a couple of Brimstones, then a Red Admiral and finally a sunbathing Comma! The track to the woods is quite narrow, luckily there was only occasional traffic...


Entering the woods at Bolderford Bridge I once again took the cyclepath to Bank. Being a weekday as opposed to the weekend I shared it with just four cyclists and two joggers, a huge improvement on Saturday's hordes. This allowed me more opportunity to spend time studying the amazing array of lichen-festooned twigs without feeling quite so self-conscious. 


It's a couple of miles up to Bank and I ambled along quite merrily at my own pace, hearing a couple of Firecrests amongst the numerous Goldcrests. Nuthatches, Treecreepers, Jackdaws and Stock Doves were frequent too, a springtime woodland bursting back into life!  Overhead Buzzards called crazily and one gave fantastic views as it performed its display flight over a large clearing. Still no sign of a Gos though. 

I turned around at Bank and retraced my steps until the cyclepath split. This time my feet took me west through Hursthill Inclosure, across Highland Water, through Poundhill Inclosure and all the way to Blackwater Arboretum at Rhinefield. The woodland here is truly lovely, a mix of native deciduous species, Scots Pine, Larch and exotic conifers. A bright red male Crossbill flew over calling loudly, I think my first for the year. 


Blackwater Arboretum is absolutely lovely, although the lack of drinking water at the toilet block was annoying, I was planning to refill my bottle here. I used to come birding here regularly in the winter months to watch Hawfinches flying in to roost. Far too early in the day for that though, plus they will presumably be back on territory getting ready to start nest building by now. It's a fantastic place though (even better when it's not full of pram-pushing mums and screaming kids running around everywhere). In the summer months the quiet purring of Wood Crickets beneath the trees fills the air.  A Firecrest, the fourth or fifth of the walk, was noisily calling from inside a large ornamental conifer. 


I continued out the other side of the arboretum and looped around to Brock Hill car park with its large thicket of Stinking Tutsan. Not even any buds yet, but the leaves are out, won't be long before it'll be looking glorious again. Yet another Firecrest was heard, this one singing. They really are doing quite well in this part of the New Forest, undoubtedly the ridiculously mild winter was kind to them. Back on the cycleway once more I noticed the large number of self-seeding ornamental conifers growing beneath the larger trees. Another 20 years and this will be impenetrable! Western Hemlock-spruce and Douglas Fir seem to be the main culprits, although leylandii-type Cupressus are doing very well too in a couple of discrete patches of woodland. 

This was about as far away from Brockenhurst (and the bus back) that I could be today. Without any warning the chafing began in earnest, what the heck??? Despite much rummaging and re-arranging down below there wasn't much relief to be had. This never happened on LEJOG, yet here I was ambling around on short walks getting myself into all sorts of discomfort. Bugger this! I nipped into the trees for a bit of privacy and tried to properly sort myself out. Hmmm, marginally successful at best. I was a bit pissed off at this turn of events, but continued on through the forest at a still fairly respectful pace. The only good thing was that a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker began drumming on my return through Hursthill Inclosure. I couldn't see it through the canopy but it drummed for several minutes. The last time I saw a Lesser Spot was two years ago, so it was rather pleasing to re-acquaint myself after a blank year in 2015. 

I stomped along through the woodland back towards Bolderford Bridge and found something I'd missed on the way through earlier. Here I am shaking hands with Mr Mole, unfortunately a rather dead Mr Mole, but cool to see nonetheless. After a good old look I finally spotted a few molehills about 200 metres away in a paddock. There was no sign of mole activity in the woods whatsoever, so this fella must have made quite a schlep to end up here, presumably to meet an untimely death beneath the wheels of a bike? No sign of fleas in his fur, so I popped it back on the track and bade him farewell with a small salute. I've yet to see a live Mole. One day.


The bus back is only hourly, arriving in Brockenhurst at 8 minutes past the hour. I checked the time, I'd need to get a wiggle on to make it. So, despite the chafing belowdecks, I hurried across Black Knowl, cutting the corner by the allotments and shaving off a few precious minutes. Here I am in full flow, hair flying (this is just for you, Geoff and Wil...get a haircut indeed). It'll be in a proper ponytail before the summer is out! Either that or I'll cop the arse and shave it all off...


Anyway, the double-time route march was not in vain, I made it to the bus stop at 5:04, in plenty of time for the 5:08 bus back, phew - made it! A sweaty mess yes, but made it. By 5:15 there was still no sign of the bus. I double-checked the timetable...what the heck???


Why? WHY??? Why would you do that, you bastards? My chafed thighs felt a mess, my back was soaked beneath my rucksack, my feet had that familiar dull throb thing going on again. You absolute buggers! Ha, serves me right. I should have thought to check. Good to know that the 5:48 is the last bus too, else it's an extra few hours walk to get back to Southampton. Pah, lesson learnt. 

Looking at the map I think I walked about twelve miles, maybe a touch nearer thirteen. Still only about half of what I'm going to be aiming for every day on my Extreme End to End Challenge. Apart from the chafing issue I had no adverse effects, my feet were fine by the time I was home again, legs fine, back all good. Just that damn rub....  

Here's a great band I've only recently discovered, the album Magical Dirt is well worth a listen. The title, if not the lyrics, is highly appropriate!

 
 


Saturday, 19 March 2016

'Scrunch Scrunch Scream Scrunch'

Just a short one today, I caught the bus down to Brockenhurst and did a loop north and west and back again. Bused it back into Southampton afterwards too, but jumped out early to give myself that little bit extra at the end. Looking at the map I did about seven miles, which is pretty crass I know! I'm going to get out a lot more this coming week, it's more about getting my legs used to walking again rather than racking up high mileages. Then I'll have to start training on the hills and with a pack on my back. Softly softly catchee monkey (or something like that). I've never really understood exactly what that means. 

Anyway, being a complete tonk I left the camera indoors, I realised this about five minutes before the bus was due. Seeing as it's only an hourly service I figured sod it. You didn't miss much anyway, 8/8 cloud cover all day, dull but dry. A bit of a cool breeze in the open, (temperature is back into single figures now) but fine in the woodland. I walked from Brockenhurst across Black Knowl and along the cycle route up to Bank. Then I came back, with a bit of detouring westwards towards Rhinefield.

Two things annoyed me for the duration of my walk. Firstly the track is surfaced in crunchy gravel. All of it. With very limited opportunity for nipping off the track I was plagued by a constant *scrunch scrunch scrunch* which is really REALLY annoying! I heard a couple of calling Firecrests amongst the usual small bird calls, which is always a cracking bird to catch up with, but undoubtedly missed lots too as I clattered up the track. A singing Redpoll was notable, Redwing numbers seem still quite high and Mistle Thrushes were in great voice. A lone White Wagtail (the Continental race of our Pied Wagtail) was in one area of damp turf, first one I've seen on the deck this spring. Wrong weather for high flying Goshawks today though.

Secondly, as the morning progressed into early afternoon, out came the masses on their bikes. To be fair, I was walking along a cycleway so I only have myself to blame there! But bloody hell, nerves frazzled by the scrunching weren't helped any by gangs of screaming kids, ignorant parents and mental dogs. I may have to restrict myself to non-weekend walks. Or find somewhere more remote. 

I did find lots of amazing-looking lichens on windblown branches. Mostly Usnea, Evernia prunastri and Ramalina. I brought a few home to key through at leisure. Or, more likely, to launch out the upstairs window in disgust (it's not always as easy as you'd think trying to ID lichens). As per usual I only grabbed big obvious looking specimens. You'd think that would help, but I bet they still exit via an upstairs window. 

Back home again I was pleased to realise that apart from a slight issue with me undies rucking up at the top of my thighs, I'd suffered no leg or foot issues. Mind you, after only seven miles I'd bloody well hope not! More walking tomorrow, fingers crossed. Softly softly...

Had to be really...and the drum goes "scrun-scruncha, scrun-scruncha..."

 

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Update from Scilly

Had a quick Facebook chat with 595, seems that firstly the Garrison campsite is open by beginning of April so that's the accommodation sorted. I first stayed here in 1991 and have been back with my tent maybe 7 or 8 times since. I've also stayed at the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust's accommodation down in The Woolpack twice, all things considered I think the tent narrowly wins out for extravagance and comfort.

My tent last year. I've had Radde's Warbler and Red-eyed Vireo from this spot! 



As you can see the campsite isn't usually too busy! 595 works here too, so that's cool. Of course, being on an island way out to sea, the weather can change rather quickly. This video is of the same tent 3 days later after a sudden switch of wind direction and strength. By the time I made it back to the campsite it would have been utterly futile trying to reposition the tent - it would have just disappeared on the wind...

  video

Thankfully the wind subsided - the following afternoon. Laying spread-eagled across the bottom of my tent all night, feverishly hoping it wouldn't blow away with every strengthening gust, having first one side panel smacking me in the face, then the other side, then the front crushing down to smother me is such good fun...flexible poles are all good and well, but boy are they crap in a storm. I guess at least they stopped the outer sheet from tearing and somehow only two guy lines pulled free. The roof poles snapped and the canvas was badly torn on 595's tent, just 50 metres from where I'd pitched my tent. All of his birdbooks and lots of paperwork were soaked, and all this just days before he was due to move into proper winter accommodation too, the poor bugger. Such are the joys of camping!  

Second bit of news from 595 was initially just a tad worrying. I'd Facebooked him asking if the campsite was open and explaining that I needed to get out to the Western Rocks. His response was "campsite is open, but Western Rocks are virtually impossible". What the heck? I'd been round them beforehand whilst doing a seal survey, what was he on about?!? I simply had to get out to the Western Rocks, it was imperative. A frantic bit of FB messaging later and once I had made it clear that I didn't necessarily have to actually land on the rocks he calmed down and explained that a tripper boat runs out there anyway. Phew, panic over. As long as the weather behaves I'll be riding out to the start of my Extreme End to End journey without complication. Of course, if I can find a skipper willing to go in really close (like really really close) maybe I can swim across and at least touch the starting post. We'll just have to see.  

Technically whichever boat I jump on to get out to Western Rocks will have a motor rather than a sail. So today's video is just ever so slightly irrelevant. But this is my blog and I'll do as I choose, mwahahahaaa!  Here's AWOLNATION's brilliant song "Sail" with the equally brilliant Jeb Corliss doing his sexy thang...


                                              






Wednesday, 16 March 2016

595 is on the case!

Everybody say hello to me ol' mate 595. Nobody is entirely sure of his real name (though for obvious reasons he's currently known as Rolf Harris, much to his dismay) All we really know is that he's a huge Arsenal fan, that he fled London under mysterious circumstances and is incredibly funny after a couple of shandies. He's also a birder who lives on St Marys, Scilly. Hence I am well jel. Spyder, Higgo and 595 - the true linchpins of Scilly birding. Well, Higgo and Spyder are anyway...


Scilly is where my journey will begin, what with it being the southernmost point of Britain. I'm not going to get into any arguments regarding the Channel Islands. As far as I'm concerned they are geographically a part of the French coast. If I include them then I might as well start my walk in Gibraltar (now there's a thought!) Rolf, sorry I mean 595, is my contact on Scilly. He's been drunk with most of the skippers out there (and probably got off with most of their daughters too) and so he seemed the logical person to contact regards the beginning of my Extreme End to End Challenge. I need a boat out to Pednathise Head, one of the outer Western Rocks and the absolute southernmost point of Britain. 


Right down at the bottom of this map you'll notice the Western Rocks lying out all on their lonesome. Pednathise Head lies at 49.8634°N 6.4027°W and as such will be the true beginning of my journey. 

Being a Villa fan, I'm really not into football. So this one's for you, Rolf. Now go find me that boat...