Sometimes everything just comes together. Today’s walking was as perfect as I can imagine – great weather, interesting discoveries, fantastic views and the green of spring flooding in. Blossom scattered on the path. A day bursting with life – even though I was headed for a battleground. Today’s walk aimed for the small hamlet of Edge Hill, where the first skirmish of the English Civil War occurred in 1648.
(Update: I discovered afterwards that I had walked close to ‘The largest ammunition dump in western Europe‘, part of the gorgeous vista seen at the end of the day.)
I had a new toy along for this journey – a GPS logger, which has plotted my route and added location data to my photos. If you navigate to my Picasa (by clicking on a picture), you will notice map positions for each photo, and a kind of map-route for the whole album, with an option to ‘view in Google Earth’ if that’s your bag
In the instruction manual it points out that GPS ‘was originally developed in the 1970s as a navigation aid for submarine-based Trident missiles’. Using a weapon-aiming system for creative entertainment seems slightly anomalous – like taking wedding photos with a sniperscope. But maybe it isn’t so odd – I already use Ordnance Survey maps, presumably designed to help get ‘ordnance’ into the right place. However I’m not pulling a gun carriage with me today – just trying to ‘look at the pictures’ in the ‘Book of Life’ and maybe fix some moments of meaning in the crosshairs.
WHAT DOETH THOU?
says a sign on the church at Harbury. Today I’m walking and writing – not magic realism, but maybe magic autobiography, placing cutout fairies in the hedgerows to hoax myself…
Most of the day was spent on the Centenary Way, a path though Warwickshire designed to celebrate the Council’s centenary.
After Harbury, there were miles of lanes and fields walked under fresh skies, the weather getting warmer as I went. Broken fences made the runic shapes I love so much for miles.
I brushed the M40, often-driven road to the South, beginning to get views of Edge Hill in the distance.
At Northend, a sign indicated a ‘Chapel of Ease’ which seemed unmissable. The small chapel, made of the deep yellow stone used for many buildings around here, was cool and peaceful. A black binder contained information about an aircrash that happened yards away during World War Two. Earlier I mused idly on navigation by weapons system. Fortunately Trident has not been used in anger, but decades ago death and destruction were being delivered by aeroplane. A B-17 bomber came to earth here, its crew of 10 killed. It was carrying 42 oil-and-rubber filled incendiary bombs which would have gone to Bremen, in a plane decorated with a bomb-throwing Alley Oop flying a purple pterodactyl.
Outside, a lamp-post had a pleasing Unmitigated England look, of Tipton manufacture, a little reminder of the West Midlands.
Walkinghometo50 has made me a connoisseur of canals, disused railways and shopping centres – all of which involve walking on the flat. The cluster of hills above Northend (Bonfire, Windmill, Magpie) were the steepest ascent I’ve made for a long time. I heaved, panting, to the top, thinking I need to do more walking between walks.
Descending, I found Burton Dassett All Saints church, and the adjacent holy well in its Victorian shell.
All Saints is in Simon Jenkins’ 1000 Best Churches book, in which he gives a rousing description of a church in ‘a wild spot at the watershed of three Englands.’
On though more fields to Avon Dassett, where I had lunch in the pub, looking at the village built from more of the yellow stone. Sitting still meant the breeze was chilly so I moved inside, where Sinatra was singing The Tender Trap. Vague musings of the eros-power of the season as mating insects flew by.
Now I actually crossed the M40. I love the contrast between the tracks and byroads that cross the motorways on the dozens of bridges glimpsed by drivers – ancient droveways lined with weeds and covered in the droppings of cattle – and the motorways themselves – newer, faster, busier, seeming to cut through the landscape rather than be part of it. I’m not anti-motorway, I just notice how different they are, and the proximity of very different types of road, seen from the less-usual angle, reveals a complex palimpsest-like quality in the landscape. (I’m looking forward to Joe Moran‘s book On Roads: A Hidden History, as I’m beginning to see dimly the interest that roads offer – vast horizontal sculptures…)
I began my ascent of the Edge Hill escarpment. This will be the third Edge Hill I have connected with this route – the others being the University, and the Liverpool district. When I say where I work, people sometimes ask ‘Where is that?’ often followed by ‘Oh, I thought it was in [insert name of place somewhere other than Ormskirk]’. I can now say (in a Johnny Cash impersonation) ‘I’ve been to Liverpool, Birmingham, Oxfordshire, West Lancashire… and it’s definitely nowhere other than Ormskirk.’ Despite its lack of university, this Edge has the most actual Hill of the ones I’ve visited, making a superb walk with views back towards Warwick.
If the military lead the way in technological development, then the sex industry is never far behind – consider the internet for instance; there are only about ten non-sexual sites and this is one of them. I toyed with the idea that military applications create technologies which are then used to shill striptease shows, and only after that put to other uses. First comes the army, then the camp followers; farmers move back in once they’ve all gone away. A discarded Fiesta magazine in a ditch below the ridge where the Royalists gathered in 1648 offers a hint that this may be an accurate assessment.
More enjoyable walking brought me to my destination. Who needs porn (specially waterlogged fading pages) when celandines are blooming? The satellites may have been built to aim missiles but we can make art with them now and generally mess about. Pikemen are still clashing and muskets being aimed, not too far from here but thankfully not in this place.
At the Castle Inn, a castle/folly-like tower on the ridge, I got a pint of Hook Norton bitter. Normally I spurn outside drinking as the preserve of lightweights and families, but the view of the battleground was too good to miss. I think outside air causes a chemical change in real beer, as it tastes different – one of those evocative tastes. (Presumably I have enjoyed drinking outside in the warm months of past years, even though it has been by accident.) I looked out across the fields, points soon to be plotted on a map, old stories of crash sites and troop deployments, my own meandering, wondering if this moment will be evoked in future years as I sit in yet-to-be-imagined gardens looking out at stuff.
At the next table, a couple of Sealed Knot men were planning a campaign of some sort.
There was an Easter Egg on my table – I’m a week late for the Easter Egg hunt, but I get an undeserved prize anyway.