On Sunday I asked a lot of my body. And it delivered. I started and finished the Spires and Steeples Challenge, walking the 26(.75 ish) miles from Lincoln to Sleaford.
Finishing wasn’t a given. I abandoned the hike at the half way point last year, defeated by the terrible weather and difficult conditions. This year I was far from fully fit – thanks to a foot injury that scuppered plans for training and only just getting over a stinking cold (okay, still having a stinking cold), I was worried it would be too much. Thankfully the weather played ball and my stamina lasted until the end, helped along by lots of determination and the messages of support from friends and family I received during the day.
We are used to a bit of fog here in Lincolnshire and I’d noted the weather warnings the day before telling me it was going to be a pea souper on Sunday morning. The forecasters weren’t wrong, it was not a particularly lovely morning, especially for those who had to travel to Lincoln – but as we just had a five mile drive up to Lincoln Castle there was nothing for me to complain about. LincsGeek dropped me off outside the Cathedral and I headed into the Castle grounds to pick up my participant number and get started. This was the first year I’ve attempted this hike, or any hike of this length, on my own. I was nervous about that but also looking forward to the challenge knowing that it was just me and my legs with one goal – get to Sleaford before dark. Before dark was important: no walkers are to be out after dark so the half way point closed after five hours and the last checkpoint before the finish closed at 5.30pm.
After our safety briefing (watch where you’re going, look left and right when crossing the roads, no cow tipping or sheep riding… you know the sort of thing), we were sent on our way, heading down Steep Hill first of all before out along the old water railway and into the countryside. The Spires and Steeples route takes in lots of small Lincolnshire towns and villages (passing by their churches, as you might imagine), using all manner of footpaths to get you there. It’s not a mountainous trail by any stretch of the imagination, but isn’t completely flat either – nothing strenuous to climb, just some uneven ground here and there, and lots of styles. The route itself is open (with permanent signposts) all year round, but the Challenge provides an opportunity to do it as an event to raise money for charity or just prove you can. This year there seemed a really good number of walkers attempting the full 26 mile route, plus about 60 runners doing the marathon and loads more opting for the 13 mile route starting in Metheringham.
Earlier in the year, when hiking up Kinder Scout, I remembered some of the smaller things that made me love walking so much. So I returned to some of those things this time too – I packed a jam sandwich, some buttered malt loaf, a banana, a snickers and a fudge finger (a finger of fudge is just enough to give your kids a treat…), an apple and some jelly babies. I put a bottle of still Lucozade in the bottom of my bag knowing that by the last checkpoint I might want something other than water, and made sure I had chewing gum and mints. That was it. No fancy energy this or that, just good old fashioned hiking food. Love it. Made me feel like I was on a day trip. Well I was, but you know what I mean. I brought the jelly babies home unopened. No, I couldn’t quite believe that either! (They’re all gone now, of course.)
The hike, until at least mile 17 was very enjoyable. Over the first few miles it was lovely watching the weather change as the sun burnt off the fog and blue skies made an appearance. The runners, who started an hour later than the walkers, started to overtake me at the first checkpoint at mile six, which seemed okay. Crossing the two large ploughed fields at mile seven or eight made me smile – this had been the point that ruined it all for me last year, that mud had been unbelievably sticky and deep and wet and uncomfortable. By that point last year I was soaked through to my knickers and utterly miserable. This year I still had a spring in my step (which may or may not have been to do with the spongy ground), and knew that this would be completely doable. I reached Metheringham, half way, at midday and wasn’t even ready for my jam sandwich yet. It was going great.
The second half of the route was much harder. After Digby, about 18 miles in, I was really starting to feel it and knew I was slowing down. As my legs tired I found myself making “ugh” noises every time I had to cross a style or go up or down steps. Someone must have known as at this point I received two or three text messages from friends asking me how I was doing and offering me support, which really helped. I gave myself a talking to and headed through Ruskington knowing that there was now just six miles to go – that sounded like a nice afternoon stroll and something that I could force my legs to complete.
Walking down Steep Hill in Lincoln at the start of the hike.
A foggy and damp footpath between Heighington and Branston.
The cloud had cleared by the time I headed out of Branston
An obligatory “looking at my feet” shot to show how much nicer the ground was this year.
Walking towards Potterhamworth across a ploughed field.
Ploughed field number two towards Potterhamworth – the turning point last year was nice and springy this year.
The route was very well signed, even better this year than in previous years.
More field paths towards Metheringham – the half way point was just ahead.
There was traditional Lincolnshire farmland as far as the eye could see.
Tiny remnants of the rain from the previous few days were visible, but it was a glorious day perfect for walking.
More fields between Dorrington and Ruskington, this time some veg that will be ready in time for Christmas.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of crazy free range hens just outside Ruskington.
Malt loaf – perfect hiking food!
The last few miles were along a path following the River Slea.
By the time I reached Leasingham Moor, the last checkpoint, I was stiffening up a lot but feeling strangely good. Having done 23+ miles already it was all about the mental game, making sure my mind kept on walking so that my body didn’t stop. I knew that in just one more hour I’d be crossing the finish line and picking up my finisher’s t-shirt. An hour seemed like no time at all, I could do that. I opened my snickers, fished out my Lucozade from my bag, and marched onwards alongside the River Slea, underneath the A17, and into Sleaford. I finished at 4.20pm, 7 hours and 45 minutes after leaving Lincoln Castle. Not the quickest, not the slowest, a time I am quite content with.
I am so pleased I took the opportunity to have a re-match with Spires and Steeples. I promised myself on the way home from the event last year, and again earlier this year, that I would come back and do it again, and I did. Spires and Steeples 1, Splodz 3 – I am victorious and loving hiking once again. Of course now I have a small problem – what should I do next? Some more big hills, I think, and then maybe some more long distance walks. I don’t know yet, but I’ll let you know.
Spires and Steeples – whether you walk or run – is both a fantastic route and a great personal challenge. It’s absolutely brilliant to have such an event on my doorstep in Lincolnshire, it would have been rude not to take part.
Will you join me next year? There are 26 and 13 mile routes and you can sign up to run or walk depending on your preference. The event is well organised but informal in tone, and there is definitely room for more people on the route. It’s ideal as a challenge on its own or as training for other trail challenges. For more information (and to find out as soon as the 2015 challenge date is announced) head over to the Spires and Steeples website or join the group on facebook.