Journey

Summer 2013: The Last Three Weeks

Summer 2013: The Last Three Weeks

From Bath, Ed’s illness lingers, and I struggle with frustration and compassion.

 

While we have time...
easier said…

We are not unprepared – with camomile tea, famous disinfectant for the stomach, and Chinese Po Chai pills – but to no avail. Movement is incredibly slow. With our busking efforts hampered by low energy, money soon gets short. We hoard pennies, and forage feverishly. Young fresh lime tree leaves offer reliable regular grazing. Chickweed is our constant cunchy snack. But the fruit on the trees is yet unripe…

chickweed, glorious chickweed
silver apples of the moon

Striking north, the dream of Liverpool guides us. From Batheaston to Box, we follow the Macmillan Way long distance path, along the beautiful By Brook. At one point this waterway is the boundary between Avon and Wiltshire, a flow which divides planning policies and funding regimes. It is a strikingly visible reminder of our social arbitrariness.

 

a quick snack...
lines drawn in nature

A roadside sign signals the change in political administration: ‘Wiltshire Welcomes You.’ This annoys me, as Wiltshire is a county, and can’t express opinions or really talk at all.

But far harder than silly signs, is the soaring sunshine. It’s a really hot summer. Streams and rivers become the only roads to follow.

Untitled
Which side are you on?
Scarlet Pimpernel in sun
Scarlet Pimpernel, open in the sunshine…

We pass a magnificent empty farm, boasting no road access, with young trees bursting through its stone walls. I ask for details from three teenagers in stripey t-shirts, but they withhold information cannily (“Well, what do you think it is…?”). Finally they admit it’s the local party spot, grinning and jangling crates.

Untitled
Empty farmstead

Soon after, we’re chased by cows over a wide field. They are youngsters, and probably boisterous rather than malicious, but we’re scared.  Three months earlier, I witnessed two brothers, in their early 70s, being trampled by a herd of cows. Both men were agricultural workers, so knew well how to behave around cattle. Seeing them fall under the heavy encircling mass, I ran into the field, and tried to shoo the herd away, but they swiftly advanced on me, and slightly quicker I retreated. Still, the two old boys had time to drag themselves out. But within an hour, one of them died from his wounds, right there on the track next to me. So I’ve learned to take aggressive cows very seriously…

We wave our sticks and shout like angry farmers, but the cows still buck and run toward us. The only way to cause them to turn back is by pretending to throw things. We surmise the monkey-magic of throwing projectiles is a very old and deeply set fear.

Anyway, through Slaughterford we go, with its field-centred church, where Alfred perhaps defeated the Danes. Not far away, we meet Ford, and take a drink. But the wealthy pub suffers a power-cut, and its impatient clientele all leap into their porsches, instantly bored. The portly landlord perspires at the door, rubbing his hands with anxiety. No-one has cash, only plastic cards, so they can’t pay him. He’s childishly grateful for our silver busking change.

We camp behind a hedge next to a noisy weir, filtering water and cooking stew on the twig-burner.

8 min cuppa on twigs
Cooking on twigs
Sun dappled ma and child
peace horse

Next day, thoroughly broke, we enter Castle Combe, where everyone is a camera-carrying tourist. This tiny village hosted the film ‘Warhorse’, so visitors eagerly photograph odd pieces of wood, taps and flakey paintwork, like the whole place is an endangered species. In the local pub, all the staff are Spanish, and they explain that “this is a very ancient village, the most beautiful in England, with a 1000 year old church.” When I mention that the church down the road in Slaughterford is Saxon, and about 500 years older, they scowl and say I’m wrong.

Hundreds of Japanese and American tourists parade about, looking vaguely dissatisfied. Castle Combe is like a village set in aspic, a 3D museum exhibit. When we sing, the Japanese don’t seem to understand busking culture, and treat us as a photo opportunity. The Americans are slightly more generous. But best of all are the local builders, who come out with notes and compliments, saying they thought someone had left the radio playing…

Financially restored, we move toward Lughbury long barrow. Sat amidst green corn and piles of rotting manure, it is not accessible like Wellow, but it feels awake and glad for pilgrims.

Amidst alien corn
The Alien Corn

Lugh is another name for Sol, the sun deity, and while exploring the keyhole stones, we are both kissed by Sol, high and strong overhead.

Lughbury keyhole
Passing staffs through Lughbury keyhole stone

Feeling very light and drifty, we ground ourselves with good bread and cheese, and bottles of cold filtered stream water.

Many colours
ground

Not far north, we pass under the grey rushing M4, and its shadowing railway. We aim for a village called Luckington, because we like the name. We briefly meet the brackish source of the Avon.

Lucking ton source of Beistol Avon
Source of Bristol Avon

Beyond this, Luckington wholly disappoints, full of new-build houses and busy roads, so we move straight for Sherston. En route, a lady walking her dog invites us in for tea. We praise her trust, but she brushes this aside, saying: “I can see you’re trustworthy, by your physiques”. We don’t really understand what she means, but then we discover she’s an aristocrat, so we stop trying.

We rest with ice-cold apple juice, grown and pressed on the farm. The kind lady’s husband boasts a ’57 Daimler, which we dutifully admire.

Sherston apple juice
Juice
57 Daimler
vroom

A little later, in Sherston village, we take an evening pint. Locals are all amiable and relaxed, until a sentry peering from the window shouts: “The farmers are coming!” Everyone seems genuinely frightened – “they normally stay in their own pub…”, but the farmers turn out to be gentle enough, if large in their opinions. After such a hot day, everyone is happy to dream quietly over cold beer. At closing time, we sleep beside the village cricket pitch, on pungent ground Ivy.

Ground Ivy, for fragrant sleep
Ground Ivy – Alehoof – for twangy sleep

Come morning, we sing for the empty streets of Sherston village, once a large marketplace, now a car-park. No-one expects buskers in this sleepy village, and they respond with stunned donations. The vintner (there are three here) brings us a bottle, a 2004 Chateau Cantemerle, which we slip into our bags as a welcome burden for future sharing.

Leaving, we briefly step onto the Fosse Way, a Roman road which today forms dusty track, public footpath and main road alike, at various stages of its emanation.

And then we’re in Malmesbury, the oldest continually inhabited town in England. It is a perfect natural fortification, surrounded by hills and river, with many natural springs.

Malmesbury appears
Malmesbury Ho!

The Abbey spire was once taller than Salisbury cathedral, but it blew down in a 15th century storm.

Malmesbury Abbey, 600 years ago
600 years ago…

The great legend of Malmesbury is Elmer, the flying monk, who built wings in the mode of Icarus, and jumped from the Abbey spire. He managed to fly a furlong, 220 metres, before crashing and breaking both legs. But this enthusiastic monk was convinced he could do better, if he only built a tail as well as wings. Unfortunately, his abbot forbade further experiments, and Elmer was grounded.

We cool our brains in the river, and look for a place to stay. The day is now long, so after a quick wander around the tiny town, we head to an opposing hillside to sleep.

Come morning, hunting a busk, we’re disconcerted by the loud cars and lorries. Malmesbury should be pedestrianised. It’s a classic hilltop town, much like Rye in Sussex, but with main road traffic, tourism cannot flourish. The beauty of the architecture and ambience is hard to appreciate, with the danger of onrushing cars.

Anyway, after a donated breakfast from an evangelical lady in a Mercedes, we sing in the market cross, designed as a viewing station for cattle and sheep buyers, when surrounded by herds for sale.

Malmesbury market square
Only venue available

The acoustic is strong, though small, and we attract a little crowd of benefactors. All goes well. Then an invitation is given to visit the Abbey house gardens, which leads to two days staying with the famed Naked Gardeners of Malmesbury. This couple took over the Abbey house gardens 10 years ago, and transformed it from nettles into one of England’s leading pleasure gardens, with a huge number of roses and other flowers.

With the Malmesbury Abbey folk
The good people of Malmesbury Abbey House Gardens
Royal battle
Interiors

It’s an overwhelmingly beautiful and fragrant place to visit, full of powerful art and sculpture. Staying there is a pleasure indeed. We try to imagine ways we could remain for years…

The face in green
Living hedges

The manor house was once a Benedictine monastery, and in the vaulted stone undercroft, people believe Athelstan is buried, grandson of Alfred. We can well believe that the conquering Normans enjoyed living above the bodies of their defeated enemy champions.

The Colour of Amber, in Malmesbury Abbey House Undercroft by A Walk Around Britain

We later sing in Malmesbury Abbey. As the stone space fills with song, so do our bodies, a physical temple dynamic that makes clear the essential purpose of such buildings.

Abbey reliwf
Abbey Relief
Theentrance
Portal

Not far from Malmesbury, we cross in Gloucestershire. Dipping back onto the Fosse Way, the weather remains dry, hot and tormenting. Ed lags increasingly, and I cannot understand where his vim has gone. Communication is poor, and worsens.

We aim for Shipton Mill, where the famous organic flour is made. It is a wise choice. The gardeners from Malmesbury sent word onward, and we’re welcomed with fresh fruit smoothies, and invitations to stay as long as we wish.

Cuckoo canon – sung by Siobhan of Shipton Mill by A Walk Around Britain

Shipton Mill
Mill House at Shipton

A fine two days are spent here: exploring the river, meeting the 1000 year old Sentinel Oak, being chased by racehorse security, and of course eating lots of great bread. We clear a dead Muntjack deer from the stream, which is smelly and heavy.

Leaving, we’re given a sourdough mother starter, to spread freely amongst those we meet. It’s a welcome quest, and flatbreads re-enter our diet. But it’s still hot, so carrying a kilo of flour is not an ideal extra. At least we are able to share our heavy French wine whilst here…

With the Shipton Mill organic flour gang
In the mill

Throughout rural Gloucestershire, in every field, the hay is cut and drying in rows. The smell is wonderful, the whole county heady with it. Farmers must be overjoyed at such a hot dry summer. It’s a different country from the past two years.

Spire of Tetbury
High Summer

Into Tetbury, Prince Charles’ home town, we hope for the busk of our lives…but we find yet another busy road, and cars, lorries and tractors utterly dominate the scene. Everyone is driving somewhere, which makes singing impossible. We lament that the Prince of Wales has not pedestrianised his local town. Perhaps we imagine his powers greater than they truly are. Most likely, we surmise, he is surrounded by such a buffer of power-hungry sycophants, he can hardly break through to reality and get stuff done…

We leave Tetbury after a cool pint in a hot pub garden.

Big brolly little brolly
Big brolly little brolly edward

Two miles out of town, beside a wood, we strike camp and record a birthday song for Sam Lee, a folk singer currently touring the world.

Then we get an email – such high tech minstrels – saying we’ve left our dog leash at the pub. Would we like to collect it, and sing for our lunch tomorrow? Yes, we say, and yes.

Tomorrow comes, but the audience stay at home, for it’s the Wimbledon final, to be eventually won by the petulant Scot. We sing quietly for those who prefer Sunday sport-free. The Priory Inn does not look special from the outside, but they practise a strict 30 mile food policy, so everything is ultra-local. We admire this greatly, and sure enough, our pizza wages are superb.

From here, we bosh up the Monarch’s Way. We’re mildly held back by Oil Seed Rape gone to seed, which blocks footpaths and clings to our legs like dreams of treacle. We persevere into ache, before noticing another ancient long-barrow is nearby. Transforming our difficulties into a prompt to change direction, we climb round fields to find Windmill Tump.

Evening is rising when we eventually climb the barrow, pitted from slipshod Victorian excavations. We sit in the antique silence, throned under Beech trees, and gorge on jewel-like wild strawberries.

Treasure on Windmill Tump long barrow
Barrow treasure
Sol-set
solset

Rodmarton is the next village we pass, which boasts the most beautiful and complete new-build housing we’ve ever seen. In ten years, they’ll look a hundred years old, and last for centuries. Well done Rodmarton.

Above Tarlton, we duck into the Tunnel Inn, hoping for a warm welcome before closing. But we could never have guessed how warm it would be – with free food, for the dog and ourselves, free beer, free camping and free hot showers. “Where are you from?” we ask the generous bar-girl, in amazement.

“Ireland” she explains, “where we know about looking after travellers”.

Next morning, heading for Cirencester along the disused Severn and Thames canal, we get somehow lost in the straight lines, and find ourselves at Thameshead, the main source of Father Thames. Today it’s bone-dry, though in winter the fields are apparently shoulder-deep.

Disused Thames and Severn canal
Disused despotic geometrics
Source of River Thames
Thameshead Dry

We’re amazed, and shocked, to see agricultural refuse – sundry tyres, barrels, and other pollutants – in the youngest stream crevices. Londoners  – you should get up here, and clean out your great river, from the source all the way down…

Entering Cirencester, we pass the Royal Agricultural College, where young farmers learn to drink, and plant things in straight lines.

Royal Agricultural University, Cirencester
farm school
Hornbeam grove
Hornbeam grove in efficient rows

In Ciren town, a lady steps up saying: “you look like minstrels.” She’s the first person to ever to call our game so quickly and accurately. We suppose since starting these journeys, the stereotype is no longer buried so deeply.

But we’re so hot and tired, and edgy with unresolved strangeness, so we don’t busk in Ciren. Instead we walk right through. Getting lost on polo grounds leads us to the Earl Bathurst’s estates. A huge local landowner, the new Earl took over 18 months ago, and is continuing the family tradition of caring very well for vast tracts of land. Responsible public access is permitted to most areas, and we reason that such private families have done a great job to maintain and protect the landscape, while public government has behaved far less responsibly – the forestry commission recently sold woodlands to the highest bidder, reneging its trust commitments to safeguard the future of British forestry. The government is selling fracking licenses to anyone with cash, drills and chemicals. In modern Britain, we ponder, are the aristocrats the safest hands for the land?

Summer in Cotswolds
Cotswold Summer Forever…
Ivy holding up stones of fallen wall
Old Ivy still holds the crumbled wall..

Here under the trees, we meet again with our girls.

Bedroom
bedroom
Inside outside
decorative interiors
Beechy
Life’s a Beech

Huge ants roam the woodland floor. Sleeping in the soft green shade of beech trees, we visit Saxon hollow ways, and find Dryad’s Saddle mushrooms, flowering valerian, Wild Lettuce and much field Scabious.

Antelope of Oakley
antelopes abound
More Valerian in flower
Flowering Valerian
Wild lettuce
wild lettuce, poor man’s opium…
Dryads Saddle fungi
Dryad’s Sadle, a fairly edible fungi
Saxon lane
The hollow lanes to nowhere…
Field Scanious full
Field Scabious

The Church of Duntisbourne is a particularly exciting place to visit. At the foot of the valley below it flows the White Lady Spring, and in the church’s crypt, accessible only from the outside of the church, are medieval mosaics just discernible on the lime plaster.

Door from crypt to churchyard
Duntisbourn Crypt
Medieval crypt fresco, Duntisbourne
Medieval fresco
St Michael among spring flora
Victorian Michael in spring flora

Hoary Plantain, the one that is neither Greater nor Ribwort, but a sort-of combination of both, grows everywhere.

Hoary Plantain flower
The Plantain inbetween

When we move on, after a good rest, a meeting with a young fellow sends us to Frampton Mansell, where we sing for three Danish old ladies, (“the Norns”), and a pub full of tequila drinking executives (“seriously lads, when are you going to commercialize?”). It’s a fun night. We sleep in the damp valley bottom.

E h w
us

From here it is an early march into Minchinhampton, via the famous Bubble Well, which in legend all travellers to Minch drink from. Locals still report it is haunted, that dogs cannot relax there.

Ed in Bubble Well, Minch
Bubbling well…

We move swiftly from quiet Minch, to busk in Nailsworth. But again, the town has no space dedicated to pedestrians, so noisy vehicles spoil our fun. We’re saved by a wonderful cafe, called the Canteen, which lets us eat and drink freely, in exchange for song on demand for its happy customers.

Passing over the commons to Stoud, we learn that this is where the lawnmower was invented, by a man named Budding. We chance a request to sing for the Prince Albert pub, Stroud’s best music venue, and are told that the current act has just cancelled, so we’re welcome to headline. It’s a fun gig, quiet again, but pleasant.

The Urban Mower – sung in Stroud by A Walk Around Britain

We sing also for the famous Stroud Saturday market, which is vibrant and buzzing, full of great food and exciting produce. It’s the high performance of our journey, crowds ring us, until the pub behind us groggily swings its doors open and tells us to shift.

At this point, Ed crashes down again, and we rest with friends for a few days. When we do leave Stroud, we only reach as far as Haresfield Beacon, where our girls come to visit again.

But this is as far as we’ll go. Ed visited a doctor in Stroud, who said he likely has a gut parasite, and prescribed strong antibiotics and rest. Though we resist the idea, we cannot avoid it. This walk will have to stop, after a mere 6 weeks. I consider walking on solo, but my enthusiasm is weak. It’s not a good ending. We part in shock, as though forces beyond our control have made the choice for us.

All around us, the Yarrow, Harebells and Meadowsweet bloom. It’s not easy to leave the walk. But we can only trust in the greater journey afoot.

Pink Yarrow for protection
Pink Yarrow protects
Harebell
Delicate Harebell rings…
Meadowsweet in bloom
Funky Meadowsweet soothes

And that’s the story of our 2013 summer stroll.

Pleasant and Delightful by A Walk Around Britain

Haresfield vista
View to Severn and Wales

Mounda
mounds