Challenge, the first!

Baldrick In true Baldrick style – I have a cunning plan!

Well actually that isn’t quite true. About as far as I have got is the need to start slow and build from there. My initial thoughts, and subsequent Google searches, have identified a number of walks and treks which will fulfil my ambitions very well. But not just yet.

So to the first challenge which is now in place and only a couple of weeks away….

At 08:30 on the 8th September 2013 I intend to set off from Reading Bridge on a 20+ mile walk along the River Thames to Bourne End marina. I am not too sure how long this will take or how I am going to feel at the end of it. It sounds very straight forward when you say it quickly but for someone who in the past has only put one foot in front of the other out of absolute necessity, it is a very long way! Fingers crossed I survive and am still enthusiastic for the next obstacle I put in my own path.

As part of the challenge I am looking to raise money for two great causes; Help for Heroes and Rennie Grove Hospice Care. If you are kind enough to venture to my fundraising page you will see that I have kept my initial target rather low; just £100. This is mainly because I intended this to be just the start. As the challenges get harder so the target will get bigger!

So finally, if you are in a position to spare a few coins, all donations will be greatly appreciated:

Thanks for reading and please come back to see how I get on and the next challenge I decide to undertake.



Time for a challenge …..

20130817-223838.jpg There comes a time in your life when you must accept you are not getting any younger. Normally at the same time you realise that there are still a million things to be done! When you are young you have all the time in the world. The sun is always shining and there is no rush for anything. There is always tomorrow ….

Then you realise that there are only so many tomorrows left and, of course, you have no idea how big or small that number actually is!!

“Tired of lying in the sunshine staying home to watch the rain
You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun”
Time – Pink Floyd

I have come to that time in my life. Although I think of myself as twenty+ years younger than I am, there are many things to remind me that I am not! When once I didn’t suffer from hangovers now it takes me a good week to get over a serious night out; plus I have my daughter reminding me every half hour that it is my own fault.

Over the past few years, as this blog will verify, I have started to do some of those things that have been on my list for ever. I have driven to Nordkapp and Morocco. I have travelled the highlands and islands of Scotland. Although I plan to go back to these places plus many others, I can at least look back and say “I did that!”.

Now I am beginning to think of my physical self. I am certainly older that I would like to be – aren’t we all – but of course there isn’t a great deal I can do about that. A time machine could be useful but I am no inventor or physicist. I am also heavier than I would like to be and less fit; these are things that can be rectified. They are within my power to change, to make a difference.

And so changes are a foot. Gym membership has been gained and exercise is becoming part of my life. Who would have thought it! I have spent my entire life avoiding any kind of sport and now I find myself with a season ticket to the greatest rugby union team in the country, London Wasps just in case there was any doubt, and a gym membership. I have also heard myself saying at the end of a particularly hard session – I enjoyed that! What, this cannot be right! How can anybody, let alone me, admit to liking exercise?

Well that is where I find myself. Although I still have a long way to go before I can say I have met these particular objectives, and to be honest I am not entirely sure I have set them yet, I am on my way.

So next I am thinking I need to set myself a challenge. Some form of sponsored activity which will benefit both me and those less fortunate would seem appropriate. But what? A challenge is good but needs to be achievable. And so I am thinking some form of walk would fit the bill. So what should I do? Climb Mount Everest, walk to Sainsbury’s?

Watch this space ………

The Battle Fields, France

A short trip this August has taken Lauren and me for our first visit to the battle fields of France. The initial intention was to visit sites from both wars, but that was curtailed some what once arriving in Normandy due to the number of sites to see and locations to experience. We only had a couple of days; just enough to dip our toes in.

Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno & Sword.

Utah and Omaha were the American landing points. Long stretches of wide, flat, sandy beaches, protected in land by high rock banks. The perfect family holiday location. Every where is clean and well looked after. Clearly the residents are proud of their villages.


Having taken in the impressive beach views your eye is drawn to the flags, memorials and information notices which bring you back to why you are here.

Theses beaches, along with Gold, Juno and Sword, were the location for the Allied invasion of Europe. The biggest landing of troops and equipment ever seen, or attempted, in world history. The D-day beaches.


On a warm August evening it is very difficult to imagine the horrors these young men were about to face; their thoughts as they crossed the channel and boarded the landing craft which would drop them on the sand and then leave them to run, unprotected, into enemy fire.

On our second day we visited the American disembarkation museum on Utah Beach. This was built into some of the German fortifications and provided a detailed explanation of the defences constructed, The Atlantic Wall, built by the Germans and how the Allies were to over come them. The photographs showed images of the landing craft, the ships further out and the men and machines coming ashore. The numbers of ships, aircraft, men, guns were all listed; leaving you to try and imagine how this was all put together and directed from the shores of England to the north coast of France. There were explanations of the problems experienced, the plans that had to be reworked in the heat of battle due to the weather conditions and, above all, the bravery and commitment of the young men. These men had travelled through the night to be the first on the beaches, the first Allied troops to finally bring liberation to Europe; well almost the first.


Gold, Juno and Sword are not as well presented as the American landing sites. But very much worth a visit in order to try and get a full picture of the scale of the Normandy Landings. Facts and figures are easy to reproduce but the atmosphere of the place, both now and on those early days of liberation are much harder to explain. The enormity of the task cannot ever be fully appreciated, but at the beaches you do begin to get some basic understanding. Standing there as the summer sun sinks into the sea, the people have all gone and there is just the sound of the cooling breeze and the birds in the sky; this is the time to think of those young men and try and image what they faced.

There are many stories of bravery, courage and leadership which I could reproduce here to try and give some insight into the men that crossed those beaches during the liberation, but one so clearly defines what it was, and still is, to be British ……

“On D Day, June 6th 1944, on this section of “Sword Beach”, as the Scots have done for generations, the Brigadier Lord Lovat, chief of the 1st Special Service Brigade, also a highlands chief, ordered his personal piper, Bill Millin, to pipe his commandos ashore. Above the roar of battle the skirl of liberation with a piper leading the way. They both entered in to the legend.”

It is recorded that Bill Millin continued to pipe as the troops made there way in land only stopping when signalled that the enemy was close and he didn’t want to give their specific location away.DSCF3679

“If they remember the Bagpiper, then they won’t forget those that served and fell on these   beaches  –  Piper William ‘Bill’ Millin.”

Pegasus Bridge.

The first Allied ground offensive in Normandy took place just a few hours before the main D Day landings. This is a story that I didn’t know although I had heard of the location. A story that is impossible to believe in many ways but of course for the evidence; the photographs are all there. It is a simple story to tell, three gliders with approximately 20 men in each are released from their tow lines over the coast of France and then directed by map, compass and watch they land within a few hundred yards of a heavily protected bridge. If that wasn’t enough they then proceed to capture the bridge and hold it secure until reinforcements arrive. How can that be achieved with that equipment? No lights to help, every where would have been pitch black and the weather wasn’t on their side either.

This photograph shows just how close the gliders landed to the bridge which can be seen in the bottom left hand corner:

Pegasus Landing

A last cup of tea before departure…..


The area is now more than a shrine to those men; it is a living community. But when the bridge had to be replaced a modern replica was put in its place and the original moved near by; a permanent reminder of what was done by a few to liberate the people of Europe.

Within the museum at Pegasus Bridge there are detailed testimonies of a number of the men that took part in this daring raid. The words of one, Raymond “Titch” Rayner, sums up to me the bravery and outstanding sense of humour of these men:

“We landed next to a bridge, it wasn’t the right one but as we were there we captured it!”


DSCF3654 No visit to these areas is complete without visiting the graves of those that made the ultimate sacrifice. American, British, Canadian, Australian, French and all the other allied forces. But also German. All sites were different. All were immaculate. All were humbling.


Our return trip took us to the Somme and only twenty years earlier. The memorials and cemeteries are everywhere; all in prefect condition. It is important to state what an incredible job the Commonwealth War Graves Commission do in maintaining these sites all around the world to ensure that the few have the fitting memorials they without doubt deserve.

Like the beaches of Normandy, the fields of the Somme form an amazing, wonderful landscape. It is not possible to image or comprehend the hardship, brutality or sheer horror of that war of attrition. Months in a trench then over the top ……

Millions died. 300,000 have no known grave. Yet just twenty years later we did it all again!

During our very short evening on the Somme, one sight did provide a small indication of what happened. The crater at Lochnagar was made by the detonation of 60,000 lbs of explosive in a tunnel under enemy lines. It was this that signalled the start of the first battle of the Somme. On the first day 75,000 men were to lose their lives.

MemorialThe imposing memorial at the Thiepval Anglo-French Cemetery records the names of approximately 75,000 of the me who have no known graves. It was built on the high ground occupied by the German forces during the battle and due to its position is visible from miles around.

DSCF3787 James Youll Turnbull VC (24 December 1883 – 1 July 1916) was a Scottish recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to a British and Commonwealth forces. Before World War I, he played rugby for Cartha Queens Park RFC and was a member of the 3rd Battalion of the Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteers. He was a sergeant in the 17th Battalion (Glasgow Commercials), The Highland Light Infantry, British Army during the Somme in the First World War. On 1 July 1916, Turnbull was awarded the VC for his actions at Leipzig Salient, Authuille, France. He was 32 years old.

Citation : For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty, when, having with his party captured a post apparently of great importance to the enemy, he was subjected to severe counter-attacks, which were continuous throughout the whole day. Although his party was wiped  out and replaced several times during the day, Sargent  Turnbull never wavered in his determination to hold the post, the loss of which would have been very serious. Almost, single-handed, he maintained his position, and displayed the highest degree of valour and skill in the performance of his duties. Later in the day this very gallant soldier was killed whilst bombing a counter-attack from the parados of our trench. – The London Gazette, No. 29836, 24 November 1916.” 

Everyone needs to visit the memorials from the Wars. Whether it is the battle fields or the concentration camps. The world must remember the lessons from history and find ways to avoid the same mistakes in the future.