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TWO MEN, FIFTEEN DAYS AND A TRIP TO LONDON …
by Harry Bucknall
formerly Coldstream Guards


It took General George Monck fifteen months before he finally decided to march his army of six thousand men to London from Coldstream on 1st January 1660. To launch south represented a gamble of the highest order - fail and plunge the country into a fourth civil war or succeed and prepare the way for a return of the Crown and stable government.


Leaving Coldstream. L-R: Canon Alan Hughes (ex CG and CF),
Harry Bucknall, Jock Davis, Kevin Stott
and Gdsm Harry Stott (No 7 Coy, CG)

Coldstream, by the Regimental Standing Stone
- Jock Davis and Harry Bucknall, right

I, however, had neither time nor political dilemma bearing down on me.  Following dinner with my editor, I did have a considerable hangover; my decision to walk from Coldstream to London in aid of Walking With the Wounded’s Homeless Veterans Appeal was thus made on a whim under ‘trying’ circumstances with little recourse to thought.  Almost the moment I pressed ‘send’ from my phone, I reckoned the task that lay but six weeks ahead was nigh on impossible. My departure, blocked by celebrations in Venice to mark a birthday that I had waited fifty years for, combined with an arrival date in London of 14th December for a carol service at St Paul’s Cathedral that I had instigated the year before, gave me fifteen days to cover the 353 miles to London - not allowing for rest or error.  Further, with the winter solstice fast approaching, a significant chunk of the 25 miles a day every day would have to be covered in darkness. Jock Davis, my long suffering right hand man in the Coldstream and now a sergeant in the Metropolitan Police, didn’t even have the luxury of a decision, I just told him he was coming.

So, it was with some trepidation that we stepped out into the grey morning of 30th November to be blessed by Canon Alan Hughes at the Regiment’s standing stone overlooking the River Tweed in Coldstream.  We were now five, joined for the first three days by father and son Kevin and Harry Stott, and former Drummer Don Castelow; all Coldstreamers of distinction.  After making our peace with God, serenaded by Don, it was Pied Piper-like that we headed for the bridge over the Tweed - Monck’s men forded the river.

Despite snow on the Cheviots, the weather gave us a head start before catching up with vengeance the following day as we crossed the moor to Morpeth. The main road no less treacherous, it was with some relief that we barged into a pub to dry off, restore feeling to long lost extremities and be reminded of the beneficial properties of tea laced with rum.  A couple of pots later and we danced all the way to Morpeth.

It was almost impossible to sneak through Newcastle unnoticed, such is the speed the Geordie can spread word. Jock led the celebrations at dinner to mark the completion of day three and seventy miles walked. Meanwhile on TV, the weather man gesticulated at an angry set of circles in the Atlantic which were shortly to be named “Desmond”.


The Angels of the North.
L-R: Kevin Stott (ex CG), Jock Davis, Harry Bucknall,
Rob Gray (ex CG), Gdsm Harry Stott (No 7 Coy, CG)
With Ed Parker, ex RGJ and founder of Walking With the Wounded

Storm Desmond finally found us about an hour after I had made the decision to take the cross-country route to York; the chance to break free from the curse of traffic was irresistible. This mythical storm was clearly passing us by, I concluded.  He hit as we crossed a field of plough, the wind so strong we could pitch headfirst into it without fear of falling and the rain so sharp it stung the face.  So severe was the flooding, we had to give up using the River Ouse as a handrail, nonetheless, arriving in the great city, the undisputed bastion of the North, with its floodlit curtain walls and busy streets thronged with shoppers was magical.

Monck, on the other hand, is reported to have arrived in York with gout.  He stayed for five days. More precisely, I suspect, the ever careful General needed to take stock following the return from London of his messenger, the Rev Dr Gumble whom he had sent ahead with demands for Parliament; moreover his troops needed rest - would that we were so lucky.

Two days on, the accents softened, the landscape mellowed and we arrived in Newark, hotly besieged throughout the Civil Wars, it only succumbed to Parliament on the express order of Charles I.  We were over half way and, just as sand in an egg timer so London seemed to be fast approaching.

After passing through the hunting heartlands, we picked up Ermine Street, the old Roman road that runs straighter than a die. The tedium of two days on Ermine Street was enough to drive a man to an early grave so it was with some relief that Jock and I, along with Ed Parker, the former Green Jacket who set up Walking With the Wounded, picked up the canalised River Lea at Ware - at its end loomed The Shard like a distant Alpine peak.

After a minor disturbance as the Garrison relocated to make way for Monck’s men, the General marched ‘leisurely’ into London from Highgate at the head of three regiments of horse with ‘his trumpets before him’ closely followed by four regiments of foot, the soldiers ‘rough and weather beaten’. With only twelve miles to push, our progress through Clapton, Dalston and Bethnal Green was, while not picturesque, equally leisurely. 

And suddenly we were at journey’s end, the enormous façade of Saint Paul’s lit for all to see towered above us, as we pushed through a crowd of over a thousand well-wishers to be greeted by the Bishop of London and swept up in a sea of faces singing carols led by the Band of the Honourable Artillery Company and the Military Wives Choir.  Jock and I arrived at the steps with £18,000 in the bag, by end of day, such was the generosity of others we raised over £33,500 to help homeless veterans off the street and back in to work. All the same, should someone suggest a trip to London, my advice will always be to take the car!


With the Military Wives Choir, Harry Bucknall and Jock Davis

After arrival at St Paul’s Cathedral
Harry Bucknall, Bishop of London, Jock Davis

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