So how did you spend your weekend?  For me it started with a surprisingly quick and clear journey south on the A14.  The aim was to meet up with my cousin Jill for our final joint training hike before our Six Dales Challenge on Sat 24th June – fundraising for Doctors of the World and also the Eating Disorder work led by Helena Wilkinson at Nicholaston House (Swansea City Mission).

After an evening of sorting out motivational hiking music on my mp3, I settled down for a good night’s sleep ahead of a 15-mile hike from Felixstowe to Ipswich.

We’d got our priorities sorted and had booked in with Jill’s mum and dad in Felixstowe for a Full English to get our hike off to a great start.  It was delicious – thanks Valerie!  We then posed for a photo in their garden before setting off.

We started our walk in Cordy’s Lane, Trimley St Mary and quickly moved on to Blofield Track – which Jill was really chuffed to walk down for the first time… relating to me how her husband has traced his family history back 400 years to a mayor of Norwich, but not yet managed to prove a link with the village of Blofield just outside Norwich.

We joined the Stour & Orwell Walk at Fagbury Cliff (not that I saw any cliffs here… just the Felixstowe Docks and a very long freight train.

From here we hiked through Trimley Marshes.  Jill is a keen lover of wildlife and took great delight in spotting different species of butterfly, explaining each of their differences to me.  At the end of our hike the tally was 6 different species and a total of 17.  Sadly none of them stayed still enough for me to photo and add to this blog.

What did stand nice and still for me were these beautifully gnarled and salt-affected trees.  For anyone who follows these blogs, I’m quite taken by tree bark and tree silhouettes, and these I found stunning.  However I think I look more windswept in this pic than the tree!  The breeze was very welcome though as it would’ve been a VERY hot walk without it.  Jill had remembered to apply sun cream… I had not.  #ouch

The miles and hours went by, and we stopped for ‘lunch’ at 12.45pm at Levington Marina.  The fine dining consisted of one slice of wholemeal bread, 50g of Moroccan-flavoured hummus, and a Braeburn apple (details are for you Malc!!).  At this point – roughly 6.5 miles into the hike, I also had a change of socks.  All going well.

We started off again after a 25 min break and reached Levington Creek.  I was greeted with more trees and the distinctive smell of salt marshes – just like being beside the sea.  At about the 7.5 mile stage I had the painful twinge in the top of my left foot which had abruptly put an end to my Neon Night Hike on Sat 20th May.  Thankfully this time it wasn’t so severe, I swallowed a couple of paracetamol, gave my foot a short massage, and carried on.

We arrived at Home Wood, or as locals refer to it, Nacton Shore Lane. Here we felt suitably inspired for a photo for Twitter (@BigPictureLivin) to confirm we were still making good progress. Having had my camera stolen at the Maybush Pub in Woodbridge on our first joint training hike (Woodbridge to Felixstowe Docks) all these photos were taken on my phone (Samsung Galaxy S3 mini).

We progressed on to Nacton Quay and then into Orwell Country Park, sighting for the first time the Orwell Bridge (which thankfully I’m NOT holding up by my thumb and forefinger… just us having a silly moment in the shade!). This signified only another 5 miles or so to go.

The border of Orwell County Park and Braziers Wood is marked by the Orwell Bridge.  Many times I’ve driven over it, admiring the view while sticking to the 60mph speed limit.  Never before had I viewed it from below.  As Jill pointed out to me, it’s actually TWO bridges close together with a very small gap down the middle.  Quite an arty shot I think!!

This was the point where my previous hiking PB of 12.5 miles was broken.  Now it was all new distance – and I was struggling.  The walking along the shoreline of the River Orwell had been hard on the legs: sand, shingle, streams to hop over, and slippery smelly seaweed – both dry / crunchy and wet.

But I’d been working on my coping strategies: with Jill’s permission I put my headphones on and started singing out loud to my cheesy 80s music as well as some inspiring Christian tunes.  And I just kept putting one foot in front of the other.

Jill was still doing fine, although had to keep stopping and let me catch her up.  Thankfully her blister pain had been kept to a minimum with some new Compeed plasters and rub stick.

With a mile and a half to go, we were in Landseer Park.  A beautiful undulating wooded area, with the sun still dappling through the trees.

It came out at a bus stop – and I sat down and sobbed.  I was totally exhausted.  I’d given all I could.  Jill, patient and encouraging as ever, showed me the short distance we had left to go on the map.  My eyes glazed over and I asked when the next bus was due!!

When the number 9a bus approached, Jill stepped back and I didn’t move.  It carried on its journey without us.  I took a few deep breaths, composed myself and carried on walking.

That final mile was slow.  I stopped several times to stretch my back and legs.  BUT I KEPT GOING!

The feeling when we finally reached the pub on Ipswich Water Front (Isaac’s) was one of happiness & relief.  We met up with Jill’s brother Alan and his wife Sarah and I enjoyed a nice half pint of cider and a sausage bap.  Yum.

So a new hiking PB of 15 miles was set.  We also climbed 340m of ascent.  With only 13 days to go til the Peak District Six Dales Challenge, there is still plenty of training ahead.

But we’re both determined to do our very best and raise funds for two great charities.  If you haven’t already, please do consider sponsoring either Doctors of the World or the Eating Disorder courses run by Helena Wilkinson at Nicholaston House (Swansea City Mission).  Thank you.