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It's a small world

It’s a small, small world indeed!

I am rather small by most standards - 4ft 11" TALL to be precise. My feet reach the ground and so I have always believed that my legs are long enough. Those wee legs carried me a LONG way recently – walking from Cardiff to London alongside the incredible (and significantly taller) Erin! There were times when the difference in length of our legs was evident as I “ran” alongside Erin to keep up, but occasionally my wee legs would carry me further and faster, mainly because Erin took all, bar two, of the blisters for the team. I apologise for not sharing this burden with her more evenly.

No matter how tall or short your legs, this world is definitely a very small place indeed. Some say that we are never more than 6 connections away from anyone that we meet – we each have a friend of a friend of a friend (x3 at most) whom we have in common in our lives.

Although I expected to meet lots of people on our Slow Travel Girls adventure, I hadn’t expected just how lovely they would be. My earlier blog "So many kind strangers" highlights how helpful and generous people were along the way, but now I want to tell you about the co-incidences and connections I found with some of them as well.

It's no surprise that since we were walking alongside the River Thames, we saw, met and spoke to many boaters – some lived on their boats, some were on holiday on their own boat and others had hired one for a short while. We also passed numerous locks. As a keen sailor and having travelled through the Crinnan Canal on a 45ft sailing yacht, I know how much effort it takes to open and close lock gates. So, as we were walking out of Lechlade one morning, I offered to help a couple passing through a lock and in my enthusiasm, I forgot to take off my ridiculously heavy rucksack!

I was chatting with Graham and his daughter, Cath, as we opened the sluice and gates to allow Graham’s wife, Freida and Cath's husband, Rich, to steer the boat into the lock before we opened the other side. Meanwhile, Erin filmed this little adventure and chatted with Graham and soon we were invited to join them on board. Erin and I quickly agreed that this was not cheating since the boat was travelling at roughly the same speed as our walking and of course we were delighted to add yet another angle to our adventure. We gratefully accepted the lift to the next lock, about a mile away.

We soon exchanged the usual "where are you from?" information and our boating friends were all from a tiny village in Somerset. They said we “probably won’t have heard of it”. I asked for its name and when Freida answered, "West Camel", I erupted into giggles – I know Dave the baker in West Camel! Dave is married to my good friend, Lisa, whom I worked with in Birmingham for 3 years from 1990. I was at Lisa’s 18th birthday party and Lisa & Dave met on holiday in Italy.

So, here we are, a Chicagoan/Memphian and a Glaswegian, currently in Gloucestershire on a long walk, aboard a narrow boat with four people from Somerset and their friend, Geoff, is Dad to Dave, the husband of Lisa from Birmingham!! We spent a lovely hour or so with the gang before going ashore – only to bump into them a couple of hours later and, once again, two days later. We were like old friends by now.

The following day, we were interviewed in Newbridge by That's Oxford TV, a great opportunity for our story to go out on the local news. Shortly after finishing the interview and taking off on our walk for the day, I held the gate open for two women who were walking not far behind us and within minutes we had adopted two new Slow Travel Girls! Margaret and Lottie are Mum and daughter and are walking the Thames Path one day at a time over the course of a year. They started this journey in May and the plan is that Margaret will do every section and Lottie and her sister will join her alone or together for each of these walks. Their route for the day was around 8 miles – roughly half what we were planning. We enjoyed lots of laughter and shared stories during the walk as well as at lunch in the pub before they headed home.

Margaret and Lottie's pace of walking was, as expected, a bit faster than ours – they were fresh out that morning whilst we had already walked over 100 miles. On a couple of occasions Erin and I quietly asked each other if we should back off to slow down, but since we were enjoying their company so much, we decided to keep going. Erin also mentioned to me that, in addition to really enjoying Margaret and Lottie’s company, she had a feeling we’d met them for a reason.

As we were all preparing to set off after lunch, Margaret asked for our full names to put into her journal of her day. I laughed as I said "well, I'd better spell mine then", which I did. Lottie said, "I know a Chris McFaul and he spells his name that way too". Cue Geddy giggles once again. Between the unusual spelling of "McFaul" and my sudden realisation that Margaret and Lottie's home town is close to where my brother and his family live, I squealed, "That’ll be my nephew!"

It turned out that Lottie has been friends with my nephew, Chris, for about 11 years – since starting high school. At this point in the day we had chatted for about five or six hours, but it was only Margaret's request for our surnames that highlighted this amazing co-incidence! That feeling Erin had earlier about our reason for meeting was now confirmed, but none of us expected it to be this!

A couple of days later, after being "rescued" by cyclist and guardian angel, Elaine at the top of a mile long hill and redirected back down to the Thames Path, we walked along the path through a deer park. It was a hot day and for the first (and only) time on our trip, we decided to sit down on the path to have a drink and some snacks. In the distance, Erin saw a man approaching and mentioned that we’d need to make room for him to pass by. As he got closer, Erin stood up to create space for him. I had taken my shoes off so was still sitting. Instead of walking on, the man decided to sit and join us for a chat. He introduced himself, spotted our Hope and Homes for Children flags on our packs and said that he had heard of the charity through Al Humphreys. Al is an adventurer and writer and both Erin and I have followed Al for several years and read his very useful blogs to get hints and tips for this adventure! Al is also a Patron for Hope & Homes and I have met him a couple of times at his fundraising "Nights of Adventure". It was soon apparent that Ben and the Slow Travel Girls had numerous friends in common. It really is a small, small world! 

Ben ended up walking with us for a few hours and we had a lovely day chatting, laughing and exchanging stories. We were especially delighted when Ben made a specific trip the following week to London to join us for some of our final walking day! Thank you so much Ben!

8 days after walking with Margaret and Lottie, we were on the penultimate day of our 3-week walk and getting close to our goal of Tower Bridge. We came across a boat with a sign that read, "The Thames River Boat Project" and stopped and chatted for a while with two of the project leaders, hearing all about their fantastic work taking people offering educational, therapeutic and recreational cruises and activities on the River Thames for the young; for older people; and people of all ages with a disability or mental health condition. Their work and stories are incredible – check them out at www.thamesboatproject.org

They were awaiting the arrival of a school party on the boat and as we said our goodbyes to the project leaders, we spotted a bunch of kids approach board the boat. I turned around and then I squealed. Erin and the team from the Thames River Boat Project stood silently, rather perplexed at the sounds – until Erin realised who had appeared. It was Margaret and Lottie! They had volunteered to accompany the school party on the trip that day, as Margaret used to work at the school! What are the chances!? When the skipper asked if we all knew each other, we all exclaimed, almost in unison – "Yes, we met for the first time about a week ago further back on our walk!"

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