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POLICING FRIENDSHIP TOUR:

The Policing Friendship Tour: All the preparations are well underway – but can you help?

From maps and medical supplies to sleeping bags and the SmartLav+, preparations are now well underway for Policing Insight Publisher Bernard Rix, as he gets ready to embark on the Policing Friendship Tour, a walking tour of UK police forces to raise funds and awareness of police wellbeing; but with lockdown restrictions still limiting accommodation options, suitable sites to pitch a tent are at a premium – so can you help?

Three weeks ago, I set out my plans for, and reasons behind, the Policing Friendship Tour, which – subject to easing of lockdown restrictions here in the United Kingdom – will start a little later this month. A lot has happened in those last three weeks.

Here’s my update on those preparations, along with – particularly for those of our readers living in and around Avon and Somerset, soon to be on my route – a request. But first, a reminder of my hopes for the Policing Friendship Tour…

Law-abiding members of the public will be horrified by the actions of the agitators within these demonstrations, yet those public voices of support for world-class policing are very rarely heard above the noise of the mob. My Policing Friendship Tour will be, in part, my way of helping to make support for policing people that little bit more visible.

Over the course of the coming months, as lockdown here in the UK eases, I’ll be visiting every one of the police forces in the British Isles, largely on foot. As Publisher of Policing Insight, my aim is to raise as much money as possible for policing-oriented charities globally, with a focus on those charities that provide health, positivity and wellbeing related support to individuals and families associated with policing. 

The recent reports of officer injuries (and, in some cases, deaths) during public order incidents, both here in the UK and elsewhere in the world, have further reinforced my determination to embark on this personal challenge. The press reports rarely recognise the wider physical and mental challenges experienced by frontline officers, as well as by members of the policing support teams working behind the scenes.

Law-abiding members of the public will be horrified by the actions of the agitators within these demonstrations, yet those public voices of support for world-class policing are very rarely heard above the noise of the mob. My Policing Friendship Tour will be, in part, my way of helping to make support for policing people that little bit more visible. 

So, to an update on my preparations. Naively, I originally thought that my key challenge would relate to my fitness to cover some 10-12 miles per day largely on foot, with a loaded rucksack, for days, weeks and potentially months on end.

I now realise that the challenge is much broader, with preparations necessary in a whole variety of areas. Here below are updates on just half a dozen of the areas I’ve needed to focus my preparations on – and, below those, a few words about just one area in which you may be able to help…

Health and fitness

Walking shouldn’t be that difficult, should it?! Well, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, and first, my thanks to a few people – all heroes in my book – who have done their best to help me get (and keep) my ageing body in some sort of order. Aiden Jones and his team at Jones’ Fitness in Biggleswade; my personal trainer for the latter parts of lockdown, Sam Barton; and, most recently my online PT focusing on my walk-related preparations, Daniel McCarroll

I’m now at the point of putting in several eight to 12-mile hikes each a week, complete with loaded rucksack on my back, and supplementing those with other, shorter walks, and associated tailored fitness sessions.

But the best health tip I have had recently came, not from any of the above, but from my very good friend Rich Bailey (and, more recently, one or two others: thank you all). In addition to the timeless ‘look after your feet’, he suggested I wear two pairs of socks. Merino wool socks, for some reason. Is this a practical joke, I thought? No, dear reader, believe you me, it works! Foot comfort went up several steps on putting this tip into practice: fewer blisters, for a start.

I’m now at the point of putting in several eight to 12-mile hikes each a week, complete with loaded rucksack on my back, and supplementing those with other, shorter walks, and associated tailored fitness sessions. My creaking body (right leg and shoulder in particular) now feels much better prepared for what lies ahead, as indeed does my head!

If you’re interested in seeing a few pictures from my preparatory walks, do take a look at my personal Instagram account. 

Charities

Although fitness preparations understandably need to be ‘all about me’, I’m very much wanting this Tour of mine to benefit others as much as is possible. As part of this, I’m very much hoping that there’ll be strong support, from Policing Insight readers as well as far wider, for a number of policing wellbeing charities I’ll be supporting.

I’m not quite yet at the point of announcing the list of charities, nor of setting out the ways in which donations can be made. Rest assured, though, there has been preparatory work going on behind the scenes. I’ll be returning to this in future updates, and do hope you’ll feel able to support the deserving charities I’ll be highlighting in due course.

Lockdown

As the UK emerges from our latest lockdown in line with the roadmap confirmed once again by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Easter Monday, it’s been vital for me to make sure that my plans reflect and respect the restrictions on our movements. I’ve therefore consulted with police forces in putting together these plans.

The next easing of English restrictions, on Monday, 12 April, will mean it will be possible for me to stay in self-contained accommodation, but not in hotels or in private houses – that won’t happen until 17 May at the earliest. So for the early weeks of my long-distance hike, I’ll be carrying a tent and sleeping bag in my rucksack…

Accommodation

… and, in the first few weeks, looking to pitch my tent in suitable places along my route. 

I’ve been very fortunate in having good friends in Devon and in Somerset who have offered to accommodate my tent in their gardens during the first few days and miles of my journey. Many thanks to Tina Orr Munro, to Richard Place, and to Rob Beckley. This great kindness has been invaluable: the early part of my route includes several days walking across Exmoor, where pitching a tent is not allowed. And all available, self-contained accommodation (including camp sites) seems to be either already booked to capacity, or restricted to multi-night stays (for understandable reasons, I only want one night at any location). 

I’ll return, at the end of this article, to the challenge of finding suitable places, later on my route, to pitch my tent.

Food, clothing and equipment

Rucksack (500g) – check. Tent (4kg) – check. Sleeping bag (2kg) – check. Inflatable mattress (essential? YES! approx 500g) – check. So I’m already up to a load of 7kg, and there’s a whole lot more to carry on my back yet.

And something else called a SmartLav+, weighing only a few grams but an important part of the journey. Unfortunately, it’s not a lightweight popup luxury bathroom. Google it if you’d like a bit of a preview of what I have in mind!

My last experience of long distance, multi-night hiking was over 40 years ago, so I’ve turned to both friends and books for more recent advice and expertise. One friend suggested that “once the rucksack’s on your back, you won’t notice the weight”. I’m not persuaded. So I’m trying, within reason, to keep the weight of what I carry to a minimum. 

Change of clothing – yes, but kept to a bare minimum. Toiletries – the basics (and, believe me, there are some ‘basics’ in the list). Maps – yes, although with online Ordnance Survey on my phone as the mainstay here. Phone, computer, spare battery pack – all needed, as I want to stay in touch with the world, and I’ll have work to do from time to time.

A basic medical kit – a (fortunately minor) cut to my hand on one of my training walks made me realise I’d need this. Plus (of course) food and water, for that day and with sufficient extra in case of emergencies.

And something else called a SmartLav+, weighing only a few grams but an important part of the journey. Unfortunately, it’s not a lightweight popup luxury bathroom. Google it if you’d like a bit of a preview of what I have in mind! Many thanks to Dave Thomas of Walk the Talk for his invaluable help on this element of my preparations.

Route

My intended route for the British Isles remains pretty much as set out in my previous article, largely following well-mapped long-distance footpaths. For example, in the early weeks, I’m expecting to use part of a route set out in Andy Robinson’s Walking the End to End Trail: Land’s End to John o’Groats on foot, as well as parts of the Macmillan Way, Cotswold Way and Heart of England Way.

I am, though, pretty sure I’ll be making one key change through Avon and Somerset, almost certainly following elements of the (as yet incomplete) England Coast Path, staying close to the Bristol Channel (via Burnham-on-Sea, Weston-super-Mare, Clevedon and Portishead) after leaving Bridgwater, rather than (as previously intended) heading due west. If I end up taking this option, I’ll move my visit to Wiltshire to Stage 3 of my travels.

I realise that I’ll need to divert from long-distance footpaths, from time to time, to reach police stations I want to visit en route. And, while my focus will absolutely be on walking, I may therefore occasionally rely on other forms of transport to facilitate relevant diversions to the core route, before I pick up again on the hike. I’ve no intention of walking alongside a major road if there’s a safer, sensible, more scenic alternative!

And of course I’m very much looking forward – once lockdown rules allow – to taking this Policing Friendship Tour on its international travels.

So how, please, might you help?

Of course, I’d love to meet friends, old and new, on my journey. Do come and join me for a day (or less, or more), should you wish. The broad outline is here, plus I’ll be posting more precise details of my route a few days ahead, as it becomes possible to confirm the timing of each section with confidence. 

Do also, please, donate to the charities I’ll be announcing, once I’ve put the appropriate mechanisms in place. 

And – forgive my cheek here – but any help in finding suitable places for my overnight stops will be enormously appreciated. If you’ve got any suggestions or recommendations for places to pitch my tent over the coming weeks, that would be particularly helpful right now.

As I mentioned earlier, I’ll be camping in friends’ back gardens in mid April, on the route from Barnstaple to Bridgwater, so that section is already covered. At this stage, therefore, I’m looking for accommodation-related help and advice on the stretch from Bridgwater through Burnham-on-Sea, Weston-super-Mare, Clevedon and Portishead. If you have any suggestions, do please leave a comment below, or email me via [email protected]

Very many thanks in anticipation!!!


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