Hay-on-Wye to Ipswich 2016 -Week 3 blog by Jane Benyon
Well we have had five lovely days back home where we celebrated my 70th Birthday in style at Christ Church, where our daughter is the college chaplain. I must say it was difficult getting back into the swing of walking, especially as it is pouring with rain all the way to Pillerton Hersey, our starting point. Having donned the waterproof trousers, coats and hats, within an hour the sun comes out and we have to take them all off again. Tom is now walking in his new boots with a hole cut into them to relieve the pressure on his bunion. I think our local cobbler was amazed at the request but it seemed to do the trick and he walks much better today. This morning we walk mainly on roads, so are quickly through Kineton, rather an attractive small town, blessed with a number of small shops which gives it a sense of community. We then realise why we are keeping to the road, there are no footpaths. This is a large area belonging to the MOD as is obvious by the "KEEP OUT" signs for about 4 miles along the road. A single track railway crosses our road on two occasions. We are curious about what goes on behind the tall fences on each side of the road. We eventually leave the road and after an excellent lunch, we cross the M40 and back into attractive Warwickshire countryside. We stop to chat with a charming young man, cutting and laying a hedge. He is a keen Brexiter, and says so are all his young farming friends, despite the possibility of losing many of their farm subsidies. We pass through Farnborough, a beautiful National Trust village with two stunning large country houses and vow we will return one day to look round. The last hour is easy, walking down farm tracks to Claydon, which is in Oxfordshire but tomorrow we will be in Northamptonshire. Our hosts tonight, a local large scale pig farmer, tells us the MOD site we passed earlier is an underground munition store.
Today the sun is shining, with scudding white clouds and we are both feeling good, although this is the longest day so far, being 12.25 miles. We know it is important to set off on time and today we are walking by 8.45 which is a record. We are walking the Macmillan Way, sponsored by the cancer charity. This is a good omen as it is comparatively new and therefore well maintained. We make good progress all day, through rural Northamptonshire, passing through small villages and hamlets. It always amazes me to realise how unspoilt so much of England is, contrary to the popular view of our overcrowded Island. One of the bonuses of walking at this time of year is the joy of picking blackberries as we progress. There is a very good crop this year. We are pleased with ourselves as we get to Blakesley by 4.30 which is very good going
Not such good going this morning and we seem to make little progress for the first 2 hours. The foot paths are there but we are walking through more difficult terrain. Also we make a couple of wrong turns. It is very easy to walk down the wrong side of a boundary fence quite happily, with Fred seemingly on the right path, until you get to the bottom and there is no way through, which means retracing your steps. Very frustrating. We did a similar thing later in the morning, by finding ourselves on a disused railway line in Towcester on the top of a steep bank and find that the footpath is below us veering off in another direction and there is no way down. Of course the satellite does not distinguish which height we are meant to be on. Once, on another walk, we went to cross a large river to find that the only bridge was at least 100ft above our heads! We walk through Towcester before lunch and I had forgotten what problems that charming old town has, due to the A5 going right through the middle. Cars were nose to tail both going north and south. Goodness knows where everyone is going? Apart from having to force our way through a hedge off the A5, where there was a footpath sign, the rest of the afternoon went well. I was interested to come across two huge fields of solar panels with sheep grazing under them. An interesting diversification in farming! We finish the day pleasantly walking down the Grand Union Canal to Thrupp Warf, where we had a welcome glass of Pimms before we set off to our hosts for the night who are old friends.
After another lovely night with old friends we return to Thrupp Warf and meet up with Gordon, who is walking with us today. Apparently ZANE helped his elderly cousin leave Zimbabwe in 2010 and this was his way of saying 'thank you'. We are now into Bedfordshire, which being extremely flat we find we are covering the miles considerably faster than at the start of our walk. However the countryside is not so interesting, with vast arable fields recently ploughed. We cross over the M1 and then walk a footpath along side it. A very noisy experience. I noticed a phenomenon that I had observed on a previous walk, birds living in woods beside motorways sing extremely loudly. I suppose they do this to compensate for the surrounding din!
We are joined at lunch time by my CEF Chairman, Bruce, his wife Julia and their lovely son Tom. It is great to see them and so encouraging for me. They walk with us for some of the afternoon which is great. Off to Hitchin for our bed for the night.
Today we are on our own again and make good progress through open countryside towards Bedford. It is our habit to pop into a number of churches on our way, especially those that look interesting. It has been gratifying to see, even in the remotest places, nearly all of them have a food bank collection box. This church initiative has now spread to almost the whole country. An example of practical help provided by church communities. We reach the outskirts of Bedford by lunch time and hop into the car to have lunch with an old friend, Anne and her daughter Rosie whose husband is the Chaplain of Bedford College. A slightly pretentious, although beautifully sited restaurant, looking over the River Ouse. We have fun lunch despite some service hiccups and set off invigorated to walk the breadth of Bedford. Apart from the Embankment, not the most attractive of towns, mainly red brick or 50's housing, which includes the university. Tonight we stay with a lovely widow called Nell, a feisty 82 year old who lives in St Neots.
The walk starts badly, as Fred, the sat nav, has gone mad. Fred, the little man of that name has disappeared and been replaced by an arrow and all the lines to follow are no longer there. I am in despair and Tom is getting impatient. A frantic phone call is made to John, my son in law, who has in-putted the route on Fred. John is brilliant, always calm and although initially does not know what has happened is able to rectify the problem and Fred has returned and we get on our way. Slightly softer landscape today and we are mainly on bridlepaths, which always makes for easy walking. Eventually we join a river walk, along the Ouse which is beautiful. When we first encountered this river, it was a stream in Warwickshire and now it is a large slow moving river. According to one of our hosts, it is an example of great Victorian engineering, with flood plains, weirs and lakes all along its progress to the sea and consequently it never floods despite going through miles of flat terrain. We see an example of this at Roxton Weir. There is great excitement when Moses disturbs an otter who plops into the river and I just manage to catch him, before he follows it! I do remember when we lived in North Bucks, that they had introduced otters into the Ouse, so it was fun to actually see one. Later on in the walk, a fox crosses our path, luckily not seen by Moses and he picks up the scent after I had put him on the lead. I did not want a fox hunt this late in the day! For the next two nights we stay with our son Oli and his wife Lois and their 2 lovely children, Amelie and Annabel. It is a day off tomorrow, so that will be very special.
We spend a lovely day with our family and lunch with old friends who are putting Marcus up for two nights while we stay with them. Oli and Lois tell the girls they are having a new baby brother or sister and now the news is out and we can rejoice in the prospect of our 11th grandchild! The girls are very excited. Having a day off from walking is hugely beneficial and we feel very refreshed by it.
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