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«il to 27th June 1998 88 days i The planning stage of this journey encompassed a period of 12 months. Fitness We set ourselves a fitness program to ...»

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The guide book is excellent and we wander on unerringly. This walk is so well marked a baby could follow it. Philip says I’m quiet but I am in some pain and yet also drawn into my surroundings. We walk on passing a couple of Americans who had hired a bicycle but got a flat tyre. They bend in intense interest over the wheel. Lovely farmland stretches out in all directions and we find watery places - ponds with willows gently dipping their branches into the mirrored surfaces and languid streams. We see fair thatched houses, time trodden villages with perfect village greens and neat houses facing the square. All very olde world and absolutely enchanting.

Accommodation is hard to come by, several phone calls are to no avail. Door knocking yields no answer and so we walk on and on. Very tired and the area is so populated that we wonder if we will find anywhere to camp. Eventually with evening drawing in we walk through another village and through a narrow space between the back of the pub and the building behind, cross a stile and a field and come to a small flat green place over another stile and surrounded on three sides by hawthorn hedges. Beyond this secret corner is a field of golden Rape. We sit and eat our dinner of fresh rolls, peanut butter, biscuits and mushroom soup and wait as long as we can before putting the tent up. On the other side of the hedge a man in green wellingtons carrying a rifle strides home. We

–  –  –

Sleepy eyed at 6am, mouths in a straight line and hands busy we pack and by 6.30am we are making our way past the field of tall yellow rape flowers. The pollen dusts us a speckled yellow like two golden bantams. Lucky neither of us suffer with hay fever as we follow a foot width thin path through the centre of the field. Not enough water for tea so just a few gulps and an empty stomach to take us on our way. The walking is still very even and very pleasing. A week ago much of this ground was deep in floodwater but already the mud has set to firm, the fields amazingly are even greener and have deepened to bright emerald contrasting magnificently with the dazzling yellow of the fields of rape. The flowers emanate heavily a perfume of spring and the countryside is dotted with lovely cottages, churches and trees bursting with blossom. Birds abound and their song fills the air. The light puffs of wind, now cool and in the North East, blow the blossom, many shades of pink and soft white, across our path as we walk. We meet two older but tall, strong ladies dressed for a long outdoor walk, by a hedge on the side of a hill. They stop to chat. They live away on the other hill. The younger one has hair like a golden banksia bloom, all ends. I like her scatty look. If they had rounded the corner one minute earlier they would have found me squatting by the hedge and Philip legs askance, trousers down. “They were probably doing the same thing on the other side of the hedge” Philip comments. The bird’s eye vision this creates makes me laugh. Really, we lose all care of such things. We are living a life without walls. We walk on smiling and laughing, we ourselves in a bubble of light-hearted atmosphere.

Bideford on Avon presents a picture as we approach, a lovely somewhat squat church and tall houses standing close in a crowd by the glassy river upon which swans float beneath a 15th century stone bridge.

A great treat - we find a Bakery/cafe serving breakfast and friendly townsfolk enquire our business. We are in conversation with the whole cafe. Food is a major fixation and we devour it. The patrons of the café cheerily wish us well as we leave and on again we go through cramped passages, broad and narrow lanes and wooded paths. We come to a lovely old red brick bridge which arches lazily over the crystal River Arrow which true to its name, shoots, froths and skims over its stony bottom to become smooth and glassy before surging over a weir on the other side of the bridge. We climb up the path beside the bridge to a country inn - The Fish – in the village of Wixford, where we have a drink amid myriads of dried flowers, cluttering knickknacks and watch with interest the fastidious landlord who constantly picks and pokes, tidies and fusses. He likes life in straight lines. His eyes are everywhere and Philip is very amused by his doings. Me, I pity his wife. He is less than pleased when we only order a couple of pints of orange squash.

43 Out into the sunshine again past a tumbledown caravan park along an untidy path of nettles and finally through fields into Alcester, a mixed architecture market town whose history extends back to the Romans. It has a medieval street pattern and many ancient properties including some lovely half timbered Tudor buildings. What a treat is the walk along Malt Mill Lane. Such an abundance of cottages from the middle ages, so old and the residents, also old (it houses senior citizens), care for their gardens which abound with spring colour.. Tonight B & B in an 18th century pub. I am so hungry.

Day 31 Alcester to Rowington Green

The pub is well on the other side of town and far away from the Heart of England Way.

Philip’s map reading skills come to the fore and after walking through a large industrial estate (looking well out of place with our packs and sticks) we come to a field and a hill.

We climb the hill and there at the top is a Heart of England Way marker. We are back.

Well done Philip! As usual!

The green heart of England rolls out like a gentle love poem before us. Nothing unexpected awaiting, just more of the same lilting beauty. No hills, just the leisurely and unhurried rise and fall of the land.

Rapture awaits us in Alne Wood, its foliage a mist of fresh spring green and its floor a haze of purple blue bluebells. Here is another ode to nature, there are so many. No artist could do it justice, Spring is nature’s gift to the world, it is fresh hope. Bannam Wood, a semi-natural broadleaved woodland at Warwickshire’s highest point of 147m is also a delight - its trees a mixture of deciduous varieties such as ash, hazel, hawthorn, maple and sweet chestnut. The fully matured hawthorns are a mass of white blossom and the air is filled with their bright spritz of fragrance.

We sit on the hillside and make our lunch. The beauty around us brings great depth of emotion. A large black Labrador roars up the hill, gives a bark of braveness straight into our lunch as it passes, then bounds on salivating wetly. A woman in green wellies toils up the hill calling after her dog, nodding and apologising in rhythm with her stride.

Philip and I gaze out over beautiful Warwickshire “You know” Philip says “this is the industrial heart of Britain but we can wander and look out and we see nothing but countryside. People would not believe this, they think England a cramped and crowded country. I think this is the best part of the walk so far”. I agree “the size of the hills helps” I say. “oh, yes, this is truly living”.

We belong to the moods of the land. The light and shadow under the shifting movement of the clouds as they catch and release the sun, the swooping of birds in the game of survival and the anger or joy of the day. So, together and separately, we walk across the great map of existence with all its intersecting lines, colours and sounds. Oh it is so astonishing to be part of it.

44 On to Henley in Arden, a small Warwickshire market town from medieval times, its long main street lined with Tudor buildings, where we buy supplies for the night. We walk on past the old Market Place and the remains of the 15th Century Market Cross, one of the few still existing in Warwickshire, to Beaudesert mount. Philip knocks on the door of a house to ask for water and the lady kindly invites us in for a cup of tea and homemade shortbread. He charms them I think, they never ask me in. She warmly chats of her family and shows us photos. We wear no masks of pretension and carry our home on our backs. We are truly ourselves. Is this why there is a friendly face behind every door?

Munching sweets from our new provisions, we are soon climbing Beaudesert Mount. It isn’t tall but it is very steep. In the distance we can see huge houses. It seems there is nowhere to hide ourselves so we knock on a farmhouse door and gain permission to camp in a field. Rosie’s field at Lyons Farm in Rowington Green is our space for the night.

Rosie’s son and his dog come running across the field. “Mum’s got some friends coming for dinner and she says would you like to come too?” We are feeling grey and exhausted.

Our bodies yearn for rest so we decline in favour of sleep. Not very sociable but we are also quite grubby.

Every day we have such a long way to go.

–  –  –

A 7.00am start this lovely crisp, clear lighted, blue skied morning. Everywhere the edges are sharp and vision far reaching. The gentle green bordered, soft underfoot path is easy walking and after leaving the farm takes us by Rowington Coppice. Ahead through the trees we have glimpses of Baldersley Clinton Church. Through a kissing gate the path leads us and past the church it runs clear and even between a soft wood and a classically English field. Sheep graze in the cool sunshine away from the lilac shade of the large oak trees. The symbol for the Heart of England Way is an oak tree and we have seen many of them along our way. We stop just past the church where someone has thoughtfully placed a park bench and there in the company of bluebells, sheep and twittering birds we make our coffee and chew on bread and cheese.

Further along we pass Baddersley Clinton Manor, a late medieval building which is impressive with its moat but it is too early for visitors and all is quiet. This is definitely another image for a picture postcard. There is a bridge across the moat and the creeper clad walls are of a lovely symmetry. We linger and are soon the point of interest for a number of hungry ducks. We pass Temple Balsall, given to an order of Knights known as the Knights Templar some time between 1135 and 1154. The Knights Templar were a crusading order founded in 1118 to protect pilgrims en route to the Holy Land and to nurse the sick.

45 Time for a rest and a drink. We relax at a table in the garden of the ‘Olde Saracen Head Inn’ sitting in the warm spring sunshine. Arrrh, this is delicious loitering. Some day walkers all decked out in shorts sit behind their frothy pints of dark beer at a table near us. A jolly fellow wearing a toothy grin notices our packs “where are you off to?” he calls.

He is impressed and interested in our journey. He and his friends are walking through the countryside from pub to pub for the weekend. How delightful, I think. This would not be possible in Australia. The distances are vast and the land is beautiful but unfriendly in its climatic extremes and the creatures it conceals. There is also the issue of private land, in Australia we do not have public rights of way such as the British do. We turn back to our own drinks “the English are quick to take advantage of some sunshine” Philip chuckles eyeing their bare white legs.

Berkswell is our next stop. The Church of St. John the Baptist here is too good to miss.

In our book we read it is one of the finest examples of a Norman church in Warwickshire which dates from the 12th century and is likely to have been a place of worship for centuries before that. The half-timbered vestry built above the entrance porch is like a miniature house and we learn that it was originally the village school. How quaint. This is a church that has strong walls and secure doors but we are here to see the crypt which is the best preserved of any parish church in England. Our search for the crypt entrance is a long one. We walk around and around and around and then Philip finds it, a small wooden gate behind the last pew which leads down some damp stone steps to a door and a light switch. Philip flicks the switch and slowly opens the door. The Saxon stonework is softly orange in the light but all is cold and unwelcoming beneath the earth. A large christening font stands by the door. I can’t imagine who would christen their baby here beneath the earth where the dead lie under cold stones. We do not stay long in this frigid and emotionless place.

We walk on and on - no shops for food, no B & B’s. Finally, exhausted, we climb a stile and walk down the hill through farm fields almost to the motorway. We can hear the even hum of speeding traffic. It is too far to trek back up the hill to find the owner of this land.

The field is huge. Probably the hedges have been removed to make the farmer’s life easier.

We drop our packs by a hedge and begin to scout the wide field for a place to hide ourselves. I look doubtfully at our packs “Will they be OK there” I warily ask. Philip’s face rises in disbelief then crinkles into laughter. He looks about him in mock amazement. “This field is hardly milling with thieves” he says “come on, it’s getting late”. So, I have still not lost my city instincts, not even here where we are so alone beneath the sky.

We tuck ourselves in a far corner, in the shadow of the hedge and a large spreading tree and sit cross legged on our green ground sheet cooking some savoury rice and mushroom soup and wait to see whether anyone will come.

A light haze falls on the land and the evening draws to dusk, distances mist myopic but no-one comes, so we put the tent up and climb in. No sooner have we taken our shoes off when we hear the mooing of cows and the barking of a dog. I put my head out and see a farmer on the far side of the field herding his cows towards the farm motorway bridge. He 46 looks as though he is heading our way. “Philip, the farmer is coming”. “If he comes over just tell him we thought this was the motorway services” Philip mumbles, then like a curtain drawing across a daylight window, sleep takes him. His nose begins to snore. I prepare to give him a solid kick as I look out again but the farmer’s outline is disappearing in the dusk as he shepherds his cows over the bridge to the other half of his farm. Sighs of relief help warm the tent and I wriggle into my sleeping bag to sleep fitfully with the sound of the motorway and the creeping cold.

Day 33 Kinwalsey to Kingsbury Water Park

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