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Archive for the ‘Accounts of the walk’ Category

Jennie dropped me off at Leighton Buzzard station and I resumed the walk. I joined the Grand Union Canal and walked along the tow path for a while. Round about now one of those weird, meaningless internet things happened. I twittered this photo

with the comment ‘Phwoar, nice bit of hedgelaying south of Leighton’. (Remember, you could be reading gems like this every five minutes, were you to follow me on Twitter.) My friend Martin was amused enough to retweet this with the comment ‘a bad case of bush envy!’, after which it was retweeted again by @hashpolitics, whose mission is ‘Aggregating news about USA politics in 140 chars’ – presumably seeing political significance in the word ‘bush’…

Anyway.

It was a sunny day and it was pleasant strolling along the canal. The countryside offered nice views, with Big Shed warehouses and giant factories shimmering beyond fields with placid cows. I liked this Anubis boat:

and the stretches of woodland:

The canal was busy, with the road, railway and River Ouzel bundled together in the same tract. At one point I could see and/or hear trains, cars, canoes, planes and bikes, all at the same time. It was like the transport hub of the world, but maybe everywhere is these days.

Under the A505 bridge, decorated with ghoulish looming graffiti, it occurred to me that I could squat down and become a troll, sending inflaming messages around the internet from my phone and generally causing mischief and self-perpetuating misery. On the other hand, I could try and spread tiny joys and semi-precious beauties…

To be continued

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On a hot, sunny summer evening we drove southwards. After crossing the Runcorn Bridge the traffic was pretty slow, so we stopped for something to eat in a pub called the Chetwode Arms -  bit pricy but a good bolthole from the A49 (known in our household as the ‘old lorry route’.) A few hours later we reached our destination for the night, the Premier Inn at the services on the M6 Toll Road. As well as being a handy position, this appealed to me as not only is it on the country’s best modern road, it is also near Watling Street, the Anglo Saxon trackway. An interweaving of ancient and modern routes seemed like a good place to doss down.

We have stopped here before – back on Valentine’s Day I was fantasising about the fate of a trapped bird here – but never overnight.

Staying here made it seem more real, although it retained vestiges of unreality. Glimpsing the bright food/retail are through doors mere yards from where we had slept (enjoying the trademarked and quality assured Premier ‘Good Night’) was odd, like stumbling out of bed to see a different country in the next room.

Early next morning I explored the immediate environs of the services. I spotted some wildish growth on a low hill, with what looked like a cairn at the top. I didn’t quite believe it would be an ancient artefact, but thought an artwork of some kind was a possibility.

I walked up to discover that this was, in fact, a Roadchef branded bin for the benefit of picnickers.

The non-cairn offered a great view of the services, gleaming in the morning sun and protected from evil forces by some rowan trees.

We had a hasty breakfast in the food courtural area.

Later, we stopped in a different services with what looked like much the same curve-roofed eating space.

It occurred to me that I’ve never eaten in a giant works canteen, like the one in the Burton factory I was writing about recently, but I’ve been in countless vast leisure canteens in service areas and malls.

Finally we were heading towards the start of the walk. It was shaping up to be a hot day. On the radio, a lady was talking about the thirty years she had spent seeking the big cats of Britain – roaming beasts that many consider to be mythical. Despite the poverty resulting from full-time cat-seeking she had ‘had a ball’ pursuing elusive, beautiful creatures. I don’t have her dedication to the cause, with my day-job and other hobbies, but maybe my autobiogeographical quest has some similarity to hers. For both of us a camouflaged detail (a shadow glimpsed on a hillside, or a special shape falling) may be worth running after in expectant delight.

To be continued

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Despite walking nearly 25 miles, I still hadn’t reached Leighton Buzzard, site of childhood holidays and source of my first Robert E. Howard Conan book (as described earlier). I had gone to sleep in the MK hotel to the sounds of drunken revelry turning nasty, closing-time shouting and what sounded like barking police dogs from seven floors below. No evidence remained in the empty square this sunny morning.

For the second week running, I enjoyed a solitary breakfast, and headed to the station – walking like the Tin Woodman in the aftermath of yesterday’s exertions.

The train took me back to Leighton Buzzard station, actually in Linslade. When we came here on holiday I would have extra pocket money, which I would use to buy various books and comics. I always seemed to find unexpected delights, an unexpected new Jack Kirby comic, for instance, so Leighton has always seemed like the source of abundant blessings. However, as I walked towards it, early impressions were of a run-down town, and I was resigned to the place of idyllic memories having become an unrecognisable Dystopia. For a moment, ‘the borders of life shrivelled and the lines of existence closed in’ as they did for Conan when in the grip of the ‘the unreasoning melancholy of the Cimmerian’

I walked up to WHSmiths, not really knowing what to expect or what, specifically, I was looking for. It was market day, and a stall outside sold graphic novels – a good omen, as if this was some special site for the fantastic, a ley line intersection of pulp imaginings.

Inside, on my patch of personal holy ground, I walked through the modern-day Smiths – dirty, down at heel and directionless (the shop that is). I looked at the fiction shelves, knowing of course that Robert E. Howard books were unlikely to be there for today’s 13-year-olds to find. But… I was wrong. Not only was there an REH book, but one I didn’t already have – The Haunter of the Ring, a collection of supernatural yarns.

Buoyed by this find, I strolled slowly around the sunny market square. The book, the fine day, the trader offering a cabbage and a cauli for one pound fifty, the two old Polish guys smoking on the steps of the Market Cross – all seemed like a reminder that, as Howard wrote (giving his barbarian hero a bipolar upswing), ‘Life was good and real and vibrant after all, not the dream of an idiot god’.

Soon it would be time to get the train back to MK, then home. For now I was glad that the place I remembered seemed in good spirits. Easier to let go of the past knowing that some of its places are carrying on by themselves in a good style.

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Wanting an early start, I walked down the empty Midsummer Boulevard to get the first X5 bus to Buckingham at 5.50. The heatwave seemed to have broken, the air an aspic gray.

The bus was quite full of long-haul travellers headed for Oxford and early-shift workers. As we sped along the A421 I realised that I had left my map in the hotel. It would have been perfectly possible to buy a return ticket and go back, but to do so would have seemed somehow… ignoble. I resolved to find one in Buckingham. The bus set me down outside Tesco, where I had finished the last leg. The supermarket was open 24 hours, and I bought supplies for the day. No maps on offer however. Ditto the Total garage. Tesco’s own garage had maps – it even had the orange Explorer maps that I use – just not the one I needed. So I headed into town to wait for WHSmiths to open, a 90-minute wait, watching the town come to life in a gray drizzle – beginning to feel a Conanic ‘gigantic melancholy’.

However, by 8.35 and I had the right map in my hand. Back-up plans involving the library (open at 9.30, would definitely have maps but may have applied strict copyright laws and forbidden photocopying) and the University bookshop (open a 10 and would have been the last resort) were not required. A Subway was open too, so I treated myself to a coffee and set off through parks by the Great Ouse.

Soon the Bernwood Jubileee Way took me beyond the A421 to countryside. In contrast to last week’s sunny walking,the grey wet landscape was cheerless, like Conan’s Cimmeria, as he describes it in The Phoenix on the Sword: ‘A gloomier land never existed on earth. It is all of hills, heavily wooded…Clouds hang always among those hills; the skies are nearly always gray…There is little mirth in that land.’

The fields were lush and wet with rain, so that walking through them gave my legs a cold shower and turned me into a seed-bearer.

Soon my boots were filled with water and I squished the rest of the day (although the boots themselves are waterproof, I’m guessing the socks drew moisture in from my sopping trousers.)

A bit of the dismantled railway line and some road walking took me towards the Padbury Brook. Part of the path crossed a field waist-deep in plants – don’t know what they are, but the flower-heads looked as if they will flower soon – future walkers will be wading through a pink sea, buzzing with bees.

I got lost on the brook and had to navigate my way back on to the route. Moral: it’s never the compass or map that’s wrong, it’s always you.

Fed up now of walking along soaking, vague pathways and roads with cars regularly swishing past, I was contemplating finding a rural bus and giving up. A disused railway came as my salvation. The stretch of the Oxford-Bletchley line still has tracks, albeit broken and grown through with foxgloves and saplings, and isn’t an official cycleway or any kind of leisure amenity. Walking along it seems neither forbidden nor compulsory. I followed it for around 2.5 miles to Winslow, enjoying its overgrown hidden world, like a ruined future or a branch line for ghost trains.

It was brightening up now, so much so that I was able to shed layers of clothing. I walked through Winslow and on to Swanbourne, where I stopped for a drink in The Betsey Wynne. This new pub, built by the Swanbourne Estate and named after a famous diarist of the Napoleonic era, was very pleasant – somehow combining a Milton-Keynes-style spacious anonymity with a rural feel. I wished I had got there early enough to sample their locally-produced food, having lived on oat bars for 10 miles.

And we were back to ‘summer classic’, with blue skies and white clouds as I walked on to Stewkley and Soulbury, approaching places dimly recalled from childhood holidays. The countryside resembled that I walked through last week, perhaps because I had resumed the walk too quickly, so that ‘they’ had not had time to assemble any new. “Do not make too much haste on one’s road” says Chilon of Sparta, wisely in my view.

The going was easier now, through green lanes and open fields. The hedges were lush and overgrown, so one never quite knew what a new stile would reveal.

Not much more to say – I was aching from the long walk (GPS clocked over 24 miles, mostly done with sodden feet) and marched through the last few miles of summer fields largely oblivious.

On the final bit of road towards Linslade, I found this drinking fountain, on a stretch of road now fit only for cars, built for Victoria’s Jubilee and restored for Elizabeth’s in 1977. Instead of water it offered me this ‘vomiting lion’ motif.

Limped into Linslade. It was too late to go to Conan’s realm of Leighton Buzzard, so I found the station; chatted about I-Spy with the ticket guy (I now wear the badge); got back to MK and walked up the Boulevard. Decided to eat at Wetherspoons as I didn’t think I’d have the energy to come out again once I reached the hotel. I love this building: newly built, like a giant car showroom, but with corners of wood-panelling like a screensaver of pubbishness. The Atlantis flyer had been replaced with one for an Independence Day beer due to go on sale the next day, July 4th. I put on headphones and listened to Astral Weeks, a favourite summer album, blocking out the soundtrack of the bar. My other senses heightened, I noticed how two separate lone men were muttering to themselves, checked I wasn’t doing the same (maybe mouthing Van’s lines about ‘the viaducts of your dreams’), smelled delicious roll-up smoke drifting in from the bright terrace, tasted the clear brown depths of beer while the young couple next to me drank champagne. As the Buddhists at the nearby Peace Pagoda may do on occasion, I radiated waves of love and compassion outwards in ever-increasing circles, across the MK street grid, the Buckinghamshire fields and the sunken lands where made-up adventures happen.

Map

Photos

Photo-map

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On Sunday morning I awoke in the Crown Inn, an old hotel in the market town of Brackley. I resolved to get away quickly rather than waiting for the 8am breakfast. However this plan was foiled by the fact that no-one was around to take my money. Rather than do a runner into the rapidly-heating morning, I whiled away some time in the room, looking out on the backs of other buildings and imagining a desert-landscape in the bad paintjob of the windowsill.

The interlude gave me some time to read the June section of Mere England, a long poem about Buckinghamshire by J.H.B. Peel written in 1946 – switching poets from ‘Northampton’ John Clare as I prepared to switch counties. Peel (minor to the point of subatomicness compared to Clare) wrote ‘What other heaven is there to compare/with noon along the lanes and in the fields?’ but I feared the debilitating heat of ‘the prime of the summer’, wondering if I could carry enough water to keep hydrated through the long hours.

The hotel woke up and I had a solitary breakfast in the restaurant, lachrymose pop providing an incongruous soundtrack, some sad bleating about Avalon that was neither Roxy Music nor Van Morrison.

I got on the way about 8.20, giving Brackley a last look, white balloons on town hall tower and names of old battlegrounds on the war memorial. I get the impression that Brackley is a motor-racing town, with fading photos of Grand Prix winners framed on the hotel walls, pit stop men in the pubs, and high-tech F1 supply chain manufacturers building headquarters on the outskirts.

The walk started through parkland, and progressed through fields and woods…

…I picked up a disused railway for part of the time…

…all beneath what Peel refers to as ‘this gaudy sun, this pith of pomp/this emblem god, this other universe’ – so hot that I could barely think beyond navigating to the next stile.

I made a deliberate detour to visit a tiny village called Water Stratford, because of this passage from Highways and Byways in Buckinghamshire (1910):

Water Stratford was once the scene of great religious excitement. Its rector between 1674 and 1694 was one John Mason. Towards the close of his career he became a fanatic who believed that he was Elias, and he persuaded thousands of people in the neighbouring country to believe this also. They called Water Stratford “Mount Zion”, and great numbers of his disciples sold their property, left their homes and went to live in barns and tents until the day of judgement, which they imagined was only a few months hence. The service included dancing, clapping of hands, and wild shrieking, with singing to the violin, tabor and pipe. Some shouted while they danced “Appear, Appear, Appear.” Mason foretold his own resurrection after three days, and his successor as rector, Isaac Rushworth, actually had his predecessor’s grave opened and the body exposed to the public view in the hope of convincing the deluded people that their “Elias” had not prophesied accurately. Not withstanding this there were followers of Mason assembled here for long years afterwards.

The village and surrounding fields are very quiet now, and it is hard to imagine an ecstatic mini-Glastonbury taking place here. I had assumed that this would be a forgotten episode in Church and local history, but in fact a plaque has been erected to Mason, and a more balanced story of his life and achievements is being told. Time ameliorates many things. There is a carving over the church doorway, presumably Christ with angels, perhaps a second coming.

The face, through some combination of erosion and the artist’s original intention, has been smoothed and simplified to that of an everyman, Buddha-serene in the heart of a lightning-armed Apocalypse, a cosmic Christ as the Human One, forever breaking into the present moment.

I walked on to Tingewick, a village about a mile away, where I stopped for a drink in the Royal Oak. Consumption of Greene King IPA powered an urge to walk on to Milton Keynes, a further 14 miles or so on top of this day’s 10 and the previous day’s 13.5 – partly bravado and partly a desire not to leave any loose ends. Fortunately I thought better of it and, too tired to take many pictures, limped into Buckingham via a golf course, some reclaimed parkland and a university zone – campus of the only private University to be chartered in this country so far, an enterprise beloved of Maggie Thatcher – so you could say I was visiting Thatcher’s Britain for a few minutes.

I found the bus stop (Tesco Stop C) to get to Milton Keynes and the train home, an extra hard mile as the Tesco in question was on the ring-roaded outskirts, rather than the Tesco Express in the town centre.

The busride gave me a chance to finish J.H.B. Peel’s poem, feeling desperately uncool enjoying the rhyming couplets of the foxhunting Lieutenant, but unable not to respond to his passionate declarations about identity fusing with place, so that ‘non-attachment’s shrug is weak to quell/this loving fire that glows and fans itself.’

Three days later and it’s still hot. My bag is packed for the next leg, not quite feeling a Peelish delight with this heatwave (‘Giddy the soul in the morning/as week upon week weathers fine,/drunk with delight in the evening,/drunk of a wine all divine’) but it’ll do, it’ll do.

Map

Map with photos

Photos

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Back to doing an early morning flit to start the walk; first train out of Ormskirk at 5.50, feeling strangely fragile after a headlong week of work and some sad passings. Seeking cheerful energy, I played a song I remembered as a fun summer tune, the Piranhas’ version of Tom Hark – but in my enervated dawn state it sounded like some kind of seaside apocalypse with its talk of ‘World War Three’ and ‘slapstick in the pantomime’.

I rallied as we approached Banbury. I had assumed that I would walk out of Oxfordshire into Buckinghamshire, but looking at the map on the train I realised that I would actually be spending most of the day in Northants. This bothered me as I like to have some kind of image-fuel for the journey, a sense however tangential of the mythology of the place I’m walking through – otherwise all I’d be doing is looking at scenery and thinking things like ‘yes, that is indeed a hill.’


‘A bush, I believe’

I put out an appeal on the aether and got a recommendation in the form of a query: ‘John Clare?’. This led me to seek out Books & Ink, a pleasant bookshop that did indeed have some books by Clare, agricultural labourer and poet, b1793 d1864. Armed with reading material I adjourned to The Exchange, a Wetherspoons pub, for a second breakfast and some reading time. In this rather subaquatic early-morning-alcoholic territory, I scanned the Clare pieces. Turns out he made a famous journey home once – escaping from an asylum in Epping Forest and walking for four days back to his home in Northamptonshire. He was also ‘devastated by [the] violation of… the open field system’ resulting from the Act of Enclosure. This process destroyed  common ground, accompanied by felling of trees and the creation of straight-line ditches, and Clare wrote poems mourning the passing of the the open land. I resolved to stay aware of ‘enclosure’ as I might encounter it on today’s ‘Careless Rambles’, see how my attempt to ‘wander at my idle will/In summers luscious prime about the fields’ would intersect with various grids of control by paying attention to the ownership of the spaces I walked through.

Returning to the Castle Quay shopping centre where I had finished walking last month, I arranged myself with sunscreen and other defences against the ‘liquid blaze’ of the sun, and set off along the Oxford Canal. My chosen pastime of spotting ‘enclosure’ is almost redundant as everything seems demarcated, fenced, named, owned and overseen by CCTV.

These areas are like the subconscious or maybe conscience of the town – a place for unwanted and hidden things: clutches of empty cans and bottles punctuating the embankments, residua of drinking exercises too freeform and low-cost to be contained even within the expansive hours of Wetherspoons.

I walked a few miles along the canal, in rising heat, now in fields, the canal lined with monsterium plants. After a  while I reached the M40, where I found a small door to some kind of inspection tunnel, monastic night stair or Jefferies Tube within the motorway.

Thinking back, I am surprised that I wasn’t more excited by this opportunity to creep inside the motorway we have driven countless times, that I have crossed thrice already on this walk, and that (I now know from reading Joe Moran’s excellent On Roads) is the site of an early memory of Lady Penelope buzzing beneath a flyover in a Tiger Moth.

On through the rising heat, until I reached Kings Sutton, a village of almost uncanny attractiveness. A wedding was happening in the church, and I watched the bride arriving in a horsedrawn open carriage as I settled in the pub with a pint of Brakspears. Regional tourism marketeers seem keen to claim this place as part of a ‘Flora Thompson Country’, a kind of dream enclosure.

Aside: I am writing this on June 30th, the release date for a western novel called The Tarnished Star by Jack Martin, real name Gary Dobbs; an early-release copy of the book was in my rucksack while I walked; Gary also works as an actor on the TV Larkrise, his Facebook status suggesting that he could be on the set at that moment; his novel skillfully hard-edged, lean writing summoning the shared fantasy world of the traditional western, a genre animated by economic enclosure strategies played out in the West, frontiers advancing and hard men fighting for freedoms already lost. 

I walked on, through fields and small woods, skirting a playing field with a cricket match in progress, and an airfield launching gliders. I began to feel I was in an imaginary England, or even creating one much like the Larkrise actors.

The sense of unreality remained as I walked into Hinton-in-the-Hedges. As I crossed the churchyard I could hear music and see glimpses of bright costumes. Assuming some kind of fete was going on I wandered over, but realised I was heading towards the backstage area of a play, costumed children giving me questioning looks. Not wanting to blunder on to a stage or though a dressing room, I started to slink away, but two women holding scripts brought me back and said I could watch the end (rather than, as Jennie suggested, seeing me off with a Shakespearian insult such as  ‘What hempen homespun have we swaggering here’ – which have been entirely appropriate, as it was A Midsummer Night’s Dream that they were performing.)

And there was a beer tent. With a pint of Hook Norton Bitter, I sat on a swing and watched the aftermath of the show, whose cast had ages spanning 70 years. It was a pleasant moment, soaking up the atmosphere of people celebrating something that had gone well.

Resisting the temptation to start a new life in friendly Hinton-in-the-Hedges (whose remaining hedges, seen in fly-wing-diagram-pattern on the OS map, suggest that it might have escaped some of the impact of the Act of Enclosure, still having fields spread out in a wheel with the village at it hub’) I completed the last couple of miles to Brackley. I had never thought about Brackley until this trip; I wouldn’t specifically have known that there was such a town, though it sounds plausible enough. Tired, hot and aching I climbed the main street to reach the Crown Inn, alone in this unknown place feeling a bit like John Clare returning to his empty cottage, ‘homeless at home and half gratified to feel that I can be happy any where’.

All the photos

Photos on a map

Map

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A nicely timed work gig meant we were in the Birmingham Hilton Metropole Hotel at the NEC on the night before this walk. As well as the function I was attending (awards for corporate communications, including a magazine called ‘Woundlife’) the hotel was hosting a massive ‘Soul Weekender’ – which meant several floor-shaking all-night discos in the nexus of suites. Even though I had sidestepped any kind of hangover-installation, I felt somewhat jaded as a beautiful day dawned, having moved rooms and slept little.

Scanning the corporate print strategically placed around the room (a pleasant if strangely-angled space) I mused on the hotel’s name; not just the Birmingham Hilton, but the Birmingham Hilton Metropole. The Metropole in Brighton will always be the ‘metropole’ to me. It too is now owned by the Hilton chain – perhaps they have a policy of strip-mining Brighton’s symbolism, distributing any valuable parts around their network, like peasants taking the stonework of a ruined abbey to build farms. Hilton have also trademarked this sentence: ‘Travel should take you places‘.  To my sleep-deprived brain this seemed both incomprehensible and pregnant with meaning, like a Zen koan. Surely any ‘travel’ must ‘take you’ to a place? Perhaps it is in environments like the Hilton chain that travel doesn’t take you anywhere – superficially different places merging – Becks Vier and reward points pumping through their chilly arteries.

Jennie dropped me at Edgehill and I set off, leaving the road for the dappled shade of some woods. I sat on a tree stump for a few minutes, and used my iPhone’s dial-a-disc function to find some soul music – as I didn’t want to walk in a state of antagonism towards ‘soul’ as a basic concept – to do so would seem somehow zombie-like. Frank Wilson’s Do I Love You (Indeed I Do) – the most exuberant song I now; the one-note guitar break never fails to send shivers down my spine – restored me to the world of the ensoulled.

Re-shriven, I walked down a hill to Ratley, a village built from an attractive yellow stone. Is this a Cotswold stone I wonder? Or the ‘ham stone’ that Simon Harvey describes as being ‘the colour of bruised root ginger’?

I entered the church, St Peter Ad Vincula. Walls leaning comfortably at odd angles enclosed a cool, quiet space – all I could hear where birds and a nearby lawnmower. On the altarcloth, three words emblazoned:

+ HOLY + HOLY + HOLY +

The pub looked nice but it wasn’t quite open. I walked up onto the hills, now on one of the Macmillan Ways. Strange to think that this path could take me to the familiar Dorset coast, and that it joins the ‘probable route of the Droitwich to Dorset salt road’. The approach to Warmington on a tiny path through trees beside the church seemed almost secret, far from a major transport route for a vital commodity.

Sheep were sitting out the hot day in the shade, as were udderless bovines of some kind. Townie that I am, I gave the latter a wide berth, despite their placid demeanour – thus losing the trail for a while.

Now I found a pub that was open – the Plough. Another cool space. I feel like I’ve been in a thousand pubs like this – false beams built on to real stone, Islands in the Stream played over speakers linked by wired painted into the now-anachronistic tobacco paint, pig roast poster adorned with clip art. Idle conversation, food, well-kept beer.

Refreshed by a nice pint of Wadworths 6X I moved on. Soon I was crossing the M40 again. On reaching the north side I decided to change my route, leaving Macmillan and following part of the Battlefields Trail that joins three Civil War sites.

Despite losing the signs again, I found my way to Mollington, another absurdly pretty village. Thirsty once more, I entered the pub and was served with a fine pint of Adnams. The landlord was really friendly and we chatted about the walk, but when a group of rambling families appeared, slowly strolling down the hill spread across the road (‘like something from a zombie film!’ the landlady quipped) he doused the lights, plunging his regulars into darkness, to feign shutness. Guess I was lucky to get that Adnams.

Having lost the signs again I simply walked along the road to get to Cropredy. I have been here four or five times for Fairport Convention’s Cropredy Festival, so it is familiar as a place swarming with festivalgoers – it was odd finding it empty, no smell of outdoor festival food drifting over the fields, no Who Knows Where The Time Goes playing beneath an immemorial sunset. I initially went to a Cropredy in 1990, shortly after a marital split. It was one of the first completely new things I did, so it always feels like a sort of  ‘start of a new era’ place. Picture me back then – in a field, wearing hideously-impractical elastic-sided winklepickers, slightly wobbly from 6X and sunshine, wondering what it’s all about. And picture me now – wearing much more practical footwear.

From Cropredy a few miles of Oxford Canal Walk took me to Banbury. On a sunny Bank Holiday Weekend, it was like walking through a succession of front rooms, as people sat on the tow path enjoying their boats. So far all I have seen of Banbury is a shopping centre – Jennie came to whisk me away to the Premier Inn that would be our berth for the night.


neti – neti

The gods were ‘easy to discern’ in Homer’s time, and maybe they still are.  ‘It is not enough to find the gods; they are obvious; we must find God, the real chief of the gods’ says G.K. Chesterton – not such an easy discernment, if as I dimly apprehend the HOLY/HOLY/HOLY is not a thing, person, pattern or notion. Meanwhile, some things look as if they should be signs and portents, who knows,
a black cat crossed my path,
a red fox crossed my path,
I glimpsed some words in a crack between stones, in the stone breastwork on the hill beneath St Mary’s Warmington. Curious, thinking of prayers stuffed into the cracks in the Western Wall, I reached in and pulled something out into the light. It was a cigarette packet, Benson & Hedges Gold, and the words were the health warning. Never liked B&H, too sweet. Never liked JPS either, even when they were the top smoke in their shiny black packet, so that just asking for ‘cigarettes’ would lead to these being offered, at least in the shop where I worked – too bitter. Marlboro had a savage kick but tasted like burning flakes of paint. Marlboro Lights were like the gaseous atmosphere of a disappeared planet, endlessly expanding outward with no gravity to hold it together. Silk Cut impressed me with the slashed purple fabric billboard in front of the Domestos factory that dad drove me past on the way to school and the clever ads that we later studied at college, but the smoke never arrived – they were like a symbolic gesture of smoking, as if ‘smoking’ was a departed reality, acknowledged by a hollow tradition. I guess if it came to it – if some unimaginable set of circumstances meant I had to smoke – I’d have to roll my own.

All the photoson a map, and another map showing the route.

(Remember – Mr Smoking, he no good.)

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