Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Why walk?

Found Stuart Maconie's latest book while browsing the map section of a bookshop and have very much enjoyed it.  It is a collection of his articles for a magazine called Country Walking and is largely about walking his beloved Lake District.  Opening at random, the first thing I read was his article 'Strides and Sweat Patches'.  It's a lovely piece of writing that expresses something I think I have discovered after a few days of gentle walking but couldn't have begun to put into words.  The best part of a good book in my opinion. 

Here's most of it, see what you think:

“Well, the other day I decided to walk to the pub.  I’d been writing all day in my Lakes lair and decided that a brisk four miles down country lanes to my ‘local’ would set me up for a pint of Black Sheep and a low-cal, high fibre feast of curry and chips.  It’s a route I’ve taken hundreds of times by car but I’ve never walked it before. The difference was a revelation.

For one, I saw things I’ve never seen.  Little coppices and mysterious hollows and clearings in the woodland to the right, a fine crag formation in a nearby farmer’s field, a lonely house with high windows up a hidden driveway.  I’d passed these by often but always as a car passenger where, even at a conservative and law-abiding 30mph, such details are gone in a blink and a blur. 

The journey even felt different.  I could feel the shifts of gradients in my calves and my lungs.  The distances began to take shape in my mind in a way that they never had previously. A village that I’d always thought of as roughly halfway between my place and the pub in fact turned out to be much, much nearer the latter.  When the journey takes six or seven minutes in air-conditioned containment, facts like that don’t mean anything.   But when the journey takes an hour and a quarter and is on foot, distance takes on new meanings as do every contour, vista and curve in the road.

It occurred to me that this is why we walk, to root ourselves in real human experience and real human scope.  The internal combustion engine has had many benefits, it has brought friends and family and the cultural and geographical treasures of many nations closer.  But it has also distorted our perspective of the world, made us lose sight (and sense, smell and touch) of the real physical world.  Walking lets you know how the world really feels again, a world measured in strides and sweat patches.  You literally get your feet back on the ground in a way that recharges the batteries and re-aligns your view of the world to a healthier perspective. 

And of course, the pint and the chips and the curry taste even better for the effort expended in getting to them.”   (p.73-75)      

Two more legs of the Cotswold Way start tomorrow!

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Somerset v Durham - Day 3

As previously mentioned, Thursday was the midway point of my sabbatical and I spent it watching others slog away at Taunton cricket ground.  The day started with Somerset pretty much on parity with Durham but they made the runs they needed for 400 and an extra batting point.

Trego got them the extra batting point before being bowled by debutant Harrison.  Was very pleased to get a shot of this because, like yesterday, only one wicket was taken bowled, and I was lucky enough to get it on 'film'.  If you look carefully it also has both bails and the ball in shot too. 

Was in the right place at the right time for Trego catching Will Smith too, off the bowling of Thomas. 

Nineteen year old George Dockrell took 6-29 as Durham collapsed from 69-1 to 167 all out in their second innings. 

Steve Harmison played his first game of the season for Durham.   

Needing 152, Somerset knocked them off in 33.4 overs, largely thanks to Suppiah's action packed innings.   

By the time Smith had trapped him LBW for 73 (and how short leg must have been pleased to see the back of him) Somerset were pretty much home and dry. 

Friday, 25 May 2012

Sabbath - the one commandment that's optional?

Halfway through sabbatical,  I now feel that I am now batting, rather than ducking for cover at short leg.  Suppiah hits a six against Durham.

With my job comes the great privilege of being on sabbatical for three months every seventh year.  And here I am, towards the end of my seventh year, and yesterday marked the halfway point in my three months.  How did I mark it?  I went to Taunton to watch cricket for the day and at around two o'clock I toasted my sabbatical with a pint of beer.  I took some reasonable pictures -  more to follow. 

I am becoming used to people in the congregation asking how my holiday is.  And I don't resent that at all.  While I am doing some study and reading and visiting other churches and ministers to try and pick up some fresh ideas, I have also taken it easy too.  I am walking the Cotswold Way, have watched two games of cricket in a row, I've taken hundreds and hundreds of photographs, tried to get the garden in some sort of order, and had the luxury of not being on duty on a Sunday or at a single meeting in the evening.  My Dad thinks I've retired early.  It's been great.   

In truth it took me about five weeks to fully unwind.  That sounds ridiculous but I offer it for the benefit of any ministers who might stumble across this.  Mine was a tiredness that wasn't going to be remedied by two weeks in the sun.  In fact it took five weeks in the rain. It might take others longer.  

I started off feeling guilty about being off and disorientated by living without deadlines.  That has gone and now that I have the ability and opportunity to relax I am doing so - without shame or guilt.  I'm still doing the study and reading etc, but I'm also having a great time too, making the most of this gift of time.  

Ministers are often pretty poor at taking their days off.  I am actually very good at it - religious even - and I was still exhausted by the time sabbatical came around.  A friend who is a minister has been wise enough to take a month out to recharge and their church were happy for this, recognising the need.  Another minister friend is just back after a sabbatical that became ten months away because they were so burnt out.  It's hard for others to get their heads around but being a minister is tough.  Exhilarating, frustrating, wonderful, funny, desperately sad, unpredictable, privileged, and sometimes it just breaks your heart - assuming it hasn't become hard.  Sabbatical is a good time to restore your factory settings and go again.  

Trego launches one; one bounce into the boundary boards.

If you are reading this as the member of a congregation, and your minister hasn't had a sabbatical, or they aren't good at taking days off, ask them why.  They probably need someone in their corner to push them a bit on this.  He or she almost certainly gets more criticism than encouragement each week, and that wears down anyone after a while.  Encourage them to take time out, they'll love you for it. 

Meanwhile, I have got to go.  The Test match isn't going to watch itself. 

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Somerset v Durham

Wonderful hot day, the first of the season, and I was lent a wonderful Canon 100-400L series lens. 
It's been a good day! 

Shot of the day, mine at least.

Hildreth bowled for 53.  Was pleased to get this as he was the only person to be bowled all day. 


Tuesday, 22 May 2012

The Olympic Torch

Despite living in a very small town on the Somerset coast, I know four of the five or six people from Burnham who are torch bearers for the Olympic relay. Not bad considering that there are only a total of 8,000 people bearing said torch.  When I say, "Know", it is a bit of a stretch to be honest, but one went to my wife's school, one works in the supermarket down the road and is a familiar sight in his running gear around here, one I sat and spoke with at a Harvest Supper last year and one is better known to me as a friend who lives around the corner.  I guess he is the one who I would accept a friendship request from on Facebook, which, face it, is the gold standard for these things. 

You might be well acquainted with the fact that some from Burnham-on-Sea are torch bearers as Sarah Milner Simonds put her's up on eBay before she ran her leg.  She is a community gardener living here but working in London and she figured rather than sit looking at the torch at home she could flog it and the money would go to her community project instead.  Trouble is that she didn't mention it was for this purpose and she has had some stick for it.  When the winning bid was £153,100, it seemed pretty clear that people have been messing her around.  Surprise, surprise, she's still waiting for the money.  There are plenty of fall back bids, some of them must be genuine.  It will be interesting to see what she does get for it. 

Interestingly, the live coverage of the relay online provided by the BBC blacked out for her leg of the journey yesterday, conveniently reappearing as she handed it on.  Expecting trouble?  Quite possibly.  I hope there was none. 

On a brighter note (and now that summer seems to be here, it is a much brighter note!) I went to the beautiful city of Wells this morning to see the torch pass through, across the Cathedral Green and back.  A very worthy man looked a little overwhelmed as he was escorted through the crowds with the torch, given that he was running on a pathway and surrounded on all sides, I'm not surprised that he looked a little in shock.  It was a great day though and with the warm sunshine and swarms of excited school children - off school for the day - mixing with everyone else it was a good place to be this morning.

Star that he is, my friend dropped in this evening so that I could photograph the torch, which means the one at the top is mine as well.  My favourite parishioner and the kids were delighted to be photographed with it too. 

It's not for sale.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Cotswold Way - Day 4 - Dowdeswell to Birdlip

Today's guest walker is my good friend Andy and after a hearty breakfast and the necessary juggling of getting a car to the finish point and a car to the start, we are away at 10am.  Some peering at maps has shown we have two short sharp climbs in the first mile or two and then we should be fine for the rest of the day.  And that's pretty much how it proves to be.  The anticipated climbs turn out to be pretty straight forward actually and we pretty much take them in our stride.  This is probably helped by the brand new route to Ravensgate Common that was opened only two days before, and is described on the Cotswold Way website as the first major route change on the Cotswold Way in the last three years.  We didn't realize it at the time but we must be some of the very first to be taking the new route.  Well, it works and as you can see below, it's a great view from the top.   

Whilst there are still some slopes and hills to come today, this 10.5 mile stretch is reasonably easy walking.  There are some lovely yellow fields on the way to Seven Springs.   

The higlight of today's walk is probably to be found at the top of Leckhampton Hill where we see a few dozen people paragliding, circling around on the thermals like some of the buzzards we have seen.  It's an amazing way to see Cheltenham below but takes some serious guts to launch yourself off the edge trusting only to some thread and material.  It is a magical sight to see so many of them in the air, circling around and it's quite mesmerizing.  We stop and watch for some time and the Rutland and Australian couples that I met yesterday do the same.  Had I not been walking on a Saturday I'd have missed this sight.    

When we finally do push on round the corner to the Devil's Chimney landmark, we realise that we have stopped and stared so much at paragliders, scenery and stone walling that we have covered 4.5 miles in 3 hours.  This is possibly sub-snail's pace.   I think it demonstrates the wisdom of shorter stages and doing in ten days rather than 7 or 8 though.  For me, to be trying to cover, say, 15 miles today, would have meant feeling (self-imposed) pressure when I was watching the paragliders.  I'd have felt I should get on with it and not linger too long.  As it is, there is no rush, though we really ought to step up the pace a little bit.  So we crack open lunch at the Devil's Chimney and walk on. 

Next stop is the National Star College at Ullenwood who have recently opened the fabulous Star Bistro in their new development.  We've only just had our sandwiches so there is no way we could eat there but they have just been nominated as Cotswold Life Food & Drink Awards Finalists for 2012.  The menu looks amazing and it's pretty reasonable too.  The coffee is excellent and you get a couple of lovely little treats with it, I particularly liked the pistachios in chocolate.  When we comment on the quality of the coffee afterwards the person who serves us tells us that Rocket Coffee is roasted in an old copper roaster in nearby Stroud.  More than that, they build schools and hospitals in the places they buy the coffee from and so it's a real partnership.  I love that the Star Bistro know and care and enthuse about this stuff.

If I was local I'd certainly visit.  It's open from 11-4 on Tuesday to Friday, 10-4 on a Saturday and they plan to do some special Sunday lunches too.  It's well worth dropping in if you are walking the Cotswold Way, especially as you walk past the entrance to the college on your route.

Suitably refreshed we walk though some lovely wooded areas and on to Crickley Hill.  Again we stop and stare out over lovely scenery, it is a warm, clear day and has been perfect walking weather.  

It's a bit of a rude awakening after such a lovely stroll to then emerge at the noisiest and most dangerous part of the walk.  The Air Balloon roundabout at Birdlip is busy as cars rush between two motorways and you need to take care as you cross.  They are faster than you might think and after 9 miles or so, you are probably not as fast as you think.  Thankfully the route only follows the main road to Cirencester briefly and, again, you are in the quiet of the route to Birdlip. 

Having been bouyed by a signpost that told us Birdlip was just a half a mile away, we have to get the map out when we hit the old (pre-bypass) road  from Birdlip to Gloucester.   We've parked in Birdlip village so are faced with leaving the route here and a short walk up the road to the car, or crossing the road and taking in some more woodland before we cut back on a different footpath nearer the village.  We elect to do the latter, even though it means walking down and up, in short succession, a reasonable slope - certainly reasonable for this time in the walk anyway.  I do it because I have half an eye on the next stage, which at 13.5 miles will be the longest, and cutting even half a mile off that seems worth it.  Andy does it because he's a long suffering friend. 

At the bottom we meet our Australian friends, who have their map out and are wondering, not unreasonably, where Birdlip has gone.  Through local knowledge - partly garnered through playing cricket in such villages - we point them back up the hill to where they are heading for the pub.  We continue and join them a bit later.  We sit together on a table in the pub garden swopping stories and they are thrilled to find that Andy is a Cotswold dry stone waller and have lots of questions for him.  It's a good way to end the day and with the weather, scenery and people, it's been my best day yet.  Next stop, in a couple of weeks time, Randwick.    

Monday, 14 May 2012


A pretty ordinary shot but it made me smile when I saw this.

I'm enjoying walking the Cotswold Way and taking the camera with a single 18-55mm lens. Sure there are times you wish you had something longer, but there are plenty of times you are glad not to be carrying the extra weight - I have enough of my own to lug around. Thanks to the brilliance of PSE9, it seems you can get a good panorama without a tripod. I think it's only with a panorama that you get a decent sense of the views you get along the walk. I mentioned in my previous post that I was having trouble uploading them onto here so I have them up here on Flickr, along with a bunch of other stuff.

Cotswold Way - Day 3 - Winchcombe to Dowdeswell

Well, I needn't have worried about not quite finishing the previous leg.  By parking in the Back Lane car park I follow the Town Centre signs to come out exactly where I finished last time.  I take a diversion to get a picture of the Winchcombe stocks.  I am sure there must be a good reason why they have holes for seven legs in the stocks but have no idea what it is. 


It's a steep climb from Winchcombe up to Belas Knapp, in fact I think it might be the longest climb of the route, though I confess I need to investigate that in a bit more detail.  The views were good though. I know because I stopped to admire them plenty of times as I caught my breath.  

Belas Knap is a burial chamber dating back from around 3,800 BC.  The picture is of the false front.  As I arrive there an Australian couple are just leaving and a retired couple from Rutland have arrived a minute or two before me.  I get to chat with them and it turns out that all five of us are doing the same stages today and tomorrow.  We'll bump into each other several times as we walk and build up a bit of friendly camaraderie as we walk.    

It's very windy and quite cold up so high but if you keep moving it isn't so bad.  I finish the coffee from my flask and push on.  I walk down through a beautiful wooded path but it's very steep and actually, despite being downhill, it's probably the most painful part of the day's walk.  Also, in the back of your mind (well, in the front to be honest) there is the knowledge that for every step downhill there will be a corresponding step up hill to come and more, because I'm approaching Cleeve Hill and the highest point of the Cotswold Way.  
To this novice walker, it's hard work but it's well worth it, the views at the top are incredible.  

It's slightly odd to get to the top of a steep climb to end up on a golf course, stranger still that there are nervous looking sheep occupying the same space.  But there are golfers and grazers on Cleeve Common, I even spot lambs in a bunker on one of the holes.  Clearly got a baa-ed lie.  


Here it is, the highest point on the Cotswold Way, proof that I made it. 

The views are spectacular but sadly Blogger says the panoramas that I took from there are too big to post.  I can see why, they are big views!  So I'll link in with my Flickr account to post some of those later.  It's very windy up there and I am blown around a bit just trying to take photographs.  It must be a nightmare to play golf in.  But what views!

Anything will be a bit of a comedown after such heights and the nature reserve I walk through is pretty uninteresting to be honest.  Maybe it's the wrong time of year.  Much more dispiriting though is the sight, just past some disused quarries, of dumped rubbish.  Drinks cartons and bottles mainly but particularly vexing and perplexing is the old tyre that someone has gone to great lengths to dump in the middle of a beauty spot.  They must have had to travel some distance to do this.  Morons.  It does, at least, serve to highlight the lack of litter on the rest of the walk, so far.

Heading towards Dowdeswell is a lovely gentle downhill walk, just what the doctor ordered when you are approaching the ten mile mark.  The sun is out as well and it makes for a very pleasant end to the day's walking.

If I had one complaint about the day (and it seems churlish to complain about anything at all on such a lovely stretch) it is the complete lack of facilities along this section.  With the possible exception of the golf clubhouse (I really should have taken a look) there are no toilets, places to get coffee or buy food anywhere.  So it is a great joy to come across a house at Dowdeswell Reservoir who is offering tea, coffee, chocolate bars and the like at very reasonable prices.  If you are walking there do drop in at Langett.  Just ring the bell at the bottom of the drive and shut the gate before you walk up the drive so thatthe free range chickens don't get out.  I sat in their garden with a cup of tea and a Mars bar and it revives my spirits almost as much as the friendly welcome from my hosts.  They are Cotswold Way people and also offer a range of Cotswold Way goodies.  I buy a relief map before I leave; I will get it framed as my reward when I finish.  It's a welcome break, a little oasis and the world feels like a better place for the existance of such places.   

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Cotswold Way - Day 2 - Stanton to Winchcombe

The night before I set out I have a great steak at the Mount Inn at Stanton, washed down with a couple of pints.  On the table next to me I get talking to a couple of Canadians, mother and daughter and it turns out that despite not seeing one another, yesterday we set out about five minutes apart and finished within about half an hour of each other.  But then they didn't get lost.

At breakfast the only other guest is a recently retired woman who is starting her retirement walking the Cotswold Way in the opposite direction (South to North).  Which means that this morning will be her final leg.  She notes that because everyone else is walking it the 'right' way, she gets to meet other walkers about every hour and has had good chats along the way.  And it's the people that she remembers most about the walk, not the scenery - which is probably quietly profound.  Even more amazing that this is the first thing she talks about before telling me of the time she came face to face with a deer as she lingered in a wood, they just gazed at one another for ten minutes before the deer got bored and wandered off.  

Today the walking is a much easier 7.5 miles and it's made easier by the fact that my friend Nigel joins me.  Walking with someone is definitely a plus, especially when they bring you sandwiches and buy you tea and cake later as well.      

The first village that we come across is Stanway, and this is a picture of their cricket pavilion, set on saddle stones and with thatched roof.  It was a gift from JM Barrie, he of Peter Pan fame, who was a cricket fan and local to the area at one time.  It's a beautiful setting to play cricket in, set in a private estate and surrounded as it is with sheep grazing.  

After that there is some steeper climbing to be done and it's pretty thick with wet mud too.  For the only time over the two days I take off a layer of clothing, though this is down to the effort of the climb rather than any sunshine.    

Again the view from the top is reputed to be great and although visibility is better than yesterday, the mist is still rolling in.  This picture is quite nice though because it shows the medieval ploughing humps which are a feature of the area.  I have little idea what these are and will need to Google them.    

Nigel photographs a sheep, who was looking none too impressed throughout the experience. 

Our arrival at Hailes Abbey is the highlight of the walk for me today.  It's very quiet and still and we are the only visitors in the time we are there, which is probably why the woman running the centre is so keen to talk.  She is very entertaining and we have an interesting conversation on the similarities between Benedictine monks and Buddhists (her choice of topic).  It was brilliant to be able to photograph the Abbey with no-one else around.    

From there it is a pretty straight forward 2.5 mile walk into Winchcombe.  Even then though, my feet are feeling it a bit, so I am not unhappy to reach Winchcombe and be bought tea and cake.  We have some time before our bus arrives and so plan to check where the bus leaves from, finish the last few hundred yards and take a few pictures around the town.   However, the timetable at the bus stop doesn't match the information I have downloaded and it seems that the bus doesn't go back to Stanton as we wished. 

We are rescued by the friendliest butcher in the Cotswolds, who confirms our predicament and offers to ring for a taxi for us.  He explains that there used to be two taxi firms in the town and that when one of the men retired, young Steve took over and the butcher liked to put work his way.  Within about three minutes young Steve is outside the shop in his taxi, ready to go.  Young Steve is at least sixty but we are very grateful for his services. 

It is only later that I realise that I haven't actually finished the days walking.  I probably only have another five minutes walking to do to complete the second stage but I haven't done it yet.  I need to start at the butchers when I resume the walk in Winchcombe.  I'll probably be buying a pork pie or two as well, just to be friendly. 

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Cotswold Way - Day 1 - Chipping Campden to Stanton

This is the first sign that you see in Chipping Campden for the beginning of the Cotswold Way.  This assumes that you are walking it from North to South, which seems to be the preferred way.  After all, everyone knows North to South is always downhill.   From here it's 102 miles down to Bath.  I am attempting it in ten (easy?) stages.  The first is the ten and a half mile schlep to the village of Stanton.

As everyone is bored of hearing by now, this has been the wettest blah, blah, since blah.  I woke on Thursday to heavy rain and puncturing anxiety fuelled dreams, I heard a good deal of rain in the night too. Yet just five minutes before I park the car, it stops raining and I have a morning of walking in cold and misty conditions - as you can see from the photo below that is taken at Fish Hill,  But I'm not being rained on. 

As a result of all this mist, I miss out on some great views which the guidebook assures me are there.  Broadway Tower, the second highest point of the Cotswolds, is not as easy to spot as it should be and so I don't stay and linger there, preferring to get down to Broadway itself for lunch.  Broadway is every bit as delightful as expected (almost as nice as Chipping Campden) and while eating the most expensive panini and coffee I've ever had, I speak to my favourite parishioner on the phone to tell her I am on my way, in one piece, and dry.  At which point, of course, it starts to rain. 

Telephone boxes in Broadway, notice the wet pavement!

I'm not too disheartened by the rain, I'm more concerned that the town seems full of shops that sell antiques rather than useful items like Mars bars and newspapers.  Besides, I have done most of my walking for the day.  It's 6 miles from the start to Broadway, so the perfect place to get lunch and rest a while before the last four and a half miles to Stanton.  

Well, there are several reasons for what happens in the afternoon.  It could be because I lose concentration.  It might be that I have my hood up and my head down and so miss some markers.  It might be because I am trying to keep my book dry (a losing battle) and so don't want to pull it out of my pocket too often. 

As a result I get lost, not once, not twice, but three times.  The first doesn't cost me much extra mileage but the second one does.  And I can't turn around once I know my mistake, not through male pride but because I have been bitten by a dog and there is no way I am retracing my steps to go and see him again! 

I am bitten by a collie near Manor Farm - walkers beware - despite being on a public bridleway.  The wrong bridleway admittedly but I am definitely on a public path.  He breaks the skin but doesn't leave a mark on my trousers and I swear at it.  (This being the part of the story that my kids can't get over, but then I realise they don't tend to hear me swear.  Which is a good thing.) 

It shakes me up a bit, and after a error in navigation in the final field I need to cross (for which I hold the book responsible this time) the pedometer tells me I have probably walked the best part of seven miles on this afternoon leg rather than four and a half.     

It is with great pleasure and some relief that I check into The Old Post House in Stanton, getting a lovely welcome.  I wash my kit, get a shower and drink a lot of tea.  I'm quite tired at the end of today but, on reflection, the fact I have walked around 13 miles shows that I can.  The legs of the journey that are supposed to be that long don't look so daunting now.  Assuming that I don't get lost, of course.     

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

"Can be very muddy in wet weather"

This is the week I finally begin my long-planned sabbatical trek along the Cotswold Way, walking North to South (because everyone knows that North to South is always downhill, right?)   I start at Chipping Campden and will end up, months later, in Bath.  Not because I am an incredibly slow walker - though I may be, especially with a camera and gorgeous countryside - but because I am doing it in two day stages.  So the plan is that I walk from Chipping Campden to Stanton on tomorrow, and then on to Winchcombe on Friday.  I'm nervous and excited about the challenge, it'll be good to get going at last.

As I read up a bit more on the trail (or is that trial?) I came across the observation - more than once - that in places the route can be very muddy in wet weather.  This coming after the wettest April on record.  Think I'm going to be turning up very wet and muddy at the end of Day 1. But as a friend who is joining me for Day 2 observed, it didn't stop Chris Bonnington.  Though I wasn't convinced that the Cotswold hills were that steep.  And then, suddenly and slightly mysteriously, a strange phenomenon in the sky yesterday afternoon - Mr Blue Sky!   Bring it on!