We had a lovely day yesterday, and we really appreciated having the time off. We are having an old barn being demolished while we are away, and I spend much of my time spraying all my pots which have been covered with dust. We leave home at 8 am, pick up one of our walkers at our endpoint today, and then drive back to Lower Shuckburgh to meet Charles, who walked with us earlier, and his wife, Angela. We realise that the road we are meant to be going down is very busy, with no footpath. We decide, therefore, to continue along the canal and then cut across country along various footpaths to reconnect to our route. Not a good plan as what appears to be a simple undertaking turns out to be very much more complicated. After many false attempts to get back on route, we meet up with a local who explains that the footpath on our map had been changed and shows us the alternative way to Staverton village. As it is Monday, none of the nearby pubs is open, and Richard has kindly bought us a picnic which we eat in the porch of the local church. The day is heating up fast. The final 4 miles back to Weeden Bec is hard work in the heat. We are walking over rough sheep pasture, through lots of heavy metal gates and with little shade. In the middle of this countryside, we find a rather beautiful man-made lake beside a smart country hotel. Moses has a very welcome swim, and we are very envious of him. Lucky dog. Back to the pub at Weedon Bec, where we have a very welcome drink before driving Charles and Angela back to their car and then home. I must say we are both feeling exhausted. It's not been an easy day, especially in the heat. We decided to try and start earlier tomorrow to miss the worst of the heat.
We arrive back at Weedon Bec and are joined by Lu, the daughter of old friends of ours and a great friend of our 2 daughters. She joins us for the first hour with her lovely lurcher dog. We walk along the Grand Union Canal, and Lu then leaves us to go to work, having given her dog its morning walk. It was lovely seeing her. We have a reasonably straightforward walk during the morning with good signs along the Dene Valley, through Nether Heyford and under the M1. We pass the huge site of Bugbrook Mills producing flour for Heyfords, which must be big employers in the area. Then into Kisingburgh, where we have an excellent lunch at the Cromwell Inn.
After lunch, we travel down a cycle route towards the main route back into Kisingburgh. Here we have a near tragedy as Moses sees Richard on the other side of the road, rushes across and is nearly hit by an oncoming lorry. We are all very shocked by how close to death he was.
We are now reaching the outskirts of Northampton, and sure enough, they are building a vast new housing development as is happening on the outskirts of other large towns we have been in. Unfortunately, this means the footpath has been re-routed some distance around. Once we have negotiated the new housing, our walk is very pleasant along a disused canal into the centre of Northampton, and we arrive at the Derngate Theatre at 3.30, so our early start paid off.
Another scorching day is predicted, so we make another early start. We leave central Northampton, past the impressive modern university buildings and through some beautiful wooded parklands frequented by many early morning dog walkers and runners. It must be a wonderful facility for the southern inhabitants of the city. This then merges into a substantial golf course, running alongside the very noisy ring road, which I would have thought would detract from the pleasure of the game, but I am not a golfer. After going under the ring road, we are into more woodland with endless footpaths going in all directions. I get confused by all the paths and take some time to identify the right one into Hardingstone. Another problem footpath ahead of us caused by another new development, and we have to get Richard to drive us around and back on the route again. We are finally out of Northampton and into the countryside.
An easy walk on a byway into Salse forest, an ancient deciduous woodland. We had rather hoped we would be walking in the shade from the relentless heat, but unfortunately, the track is wide, so no cover is provided. Richard picks us up in the middle to take us to a pub, and we are joined by Sue again to talk ZANE business with Tom. Back to the forest for a couple of miles and then out into farmland. Our only excitement is that we have to negotiate our way around a herd of cows and calves. As they were all lying down in the heat, we hoped to be able to creep around them, but unfortunately not, and we had to make a quick exit over an iron gate and make our way to our endpoint at Hardwick on a different route.
The heatwave is over, and we wake up to a misty autumnal morning, thank goodness. We leave Hardwick on well-maintained footpaths, through a lovely old pasture, all very picturesque. We walk to Castlethorpe over some mounds and dips in the ground, which Richard believes is a motte and bailey, a circular ditch and mound built by the locals, against marauding tribes for protection. A metal figure of a warrior is on it, which confirms the accuracy of his suggestion. We cross over the main rail line to Euston, used by Tom for 35 years when we lived in the area, and then back to the Grand Union Canal. This is a bustling stretch with a lot of inhabited barges. We meet a man who has converted a barge into a sweet shop, selling a vast range of packets of sweets for Â£1 each. He took it up after he became redundant some years ago. He tells us that he was the only one on the canals for many years but know there are 5 others. We buy some sweets to sustain us on our way! As we walk along the canal, we notice it is built up well above the surrounding countryside. It then crosses the River Ouse on the Iron Trunk, a spectacular viaduct which was a first in engineering skill, built in 1811. The first attempt in 1808 fell down.
We have now arrived in the outskirts of Milton Keynes. 30 years ago, living in North Bucks, we watched the planning and then the city's building. What I had forgotten was the decision to make the whole city accessible on foot away from traffic. There was a joke, at the time, about the lost tribe of Milton Keynes, because of the number of closely planted trees. The thought was that no one would find their way out! We now enjoy the benefit by walking along paths of well-maintained cycle tracks underneath mature trees. It is very impressive even though we are walking near some relatively low-grade housing estates. The only downside is the amount of urban litter in some areas, a bonanza for Moses as he picks up all sorts of discarded goodies!
Richard picks us up at noon to take us to a pub in Cosgrove, which looked OK from the outside but was not very good, with a rather surly landlord. After lunch, we leave the city along an old lane that I remember riding along 30 years ago. 1.5 miles before the end, we again find the footpath has been temporarily closed by another out of town development. This seems to be the recurring theme of this year's walk. By the time we are driven around this, there are only about 500 yds left of today's walk. It has been a good day's walking despite the footpath closure, and we are on our way home by 3.30
We start well and walk down a pleasant old lane/bridleway, which I remember from years back. The difference is that Milton Keynes is still growing on either side of it. We skirt the edge of Whaddon through a farmyard where we meet a farmer we both recognise from the past. We have a happy chat about old friends, many now sadly dead. He kindly shows us a way through his farm without having to negotiate several electric fences holding his grandchildren's ponies. On through Mursley, another old haunt and then across country towards Hoggestone, not an easy route to negotiate through large fields and huge hedges. We lunch in Swanbourne with an old friend who lives nearby. Tom has the start of a blister at the bottom of his foot, so he decides not to walk the rest of the afternoon. I decide to go on my own. I get into the first field full of young bullocks, which concerns me a bit, especially having Moses with me. I ring Richard, who kindly agrees to come with me and arranges for Tom will meet us at the end. I am glad of the company as we are surrounded by curious pushy animals all the way across the field. The following field has cows and a large bull who is more interested in removing his ladies away from the hysterical barking of Moses. I am embarrassed by my urban dog! We decide to not walk up the A 314, which is dangerously busy at this time of day. Richard finds another route by a footpath, taking us to the edge of Whitchurch and our endpoint at the church.
We have 6 other walkers with us today, including our daughter Clare. Inevitably we start a bit late, having introduced ourselves and all that entails. We set off out of the pretty village of Whitchurch past another Motte and Bailey mound, which according to google is called Bolbec Castle and is a particularly fine example. Lots of footpath signs, but the paths are not well used, with very long grass and nettle strewn styles. The locals appear not to be great walkers. We cross the A314 into the pretty villages of Hardwick and then Weedon, with its attractive duck pond, where I remember washing off our horses at the end of a day's hunting many moons ago. Then back to the main road into Aylesbury for lunch in the centre of town next to the theatre. I worked in Aylesbury for 20 years as a social worker but am quite shocked how little I recognised of the centre, even though the hideous county council 1960s office block, where I worked, is still there. Across the railway line, we walk out of town, this time, not faced with footpath closure but again by HS2. Luckily the notice says access is closed during the day except after 2 pm on a Saturday, so we are OK. We walk through the village of Stone, having negotiated ourselves around busy B roads and pass the site of the old mental hospital, St John's, now a housing estate. Here I spent much of the '70s' training long-stay patients to be able to live successfully in the community. I am surprised to see the old hospital church still standing. It must have been closed and boarded up at least 40 years ago and stands dejectedly in a smart housing development. One wonders why it has not been pulled down as it is no heritage building, probably early 19 century and on a prime building site. A mile further on, we arrive at the village of Upton, where we say goodby to Ashley, who has been walking with us and return Charles and Angela to their car in Whitchurch.
The penultimate day and we are both feeling that we are ready to stop walking. No 'day off' this week. We are both feeling tired having watched Emma Raducanu win the US Open last night. Amazing game !! Charles and Angela are with us again today, and one of the ZANE Trustees with his very well behaved Labrador. Perfect walking weather, we leave Upton, walking along miles of road. We are constantly passed by fleets of old cars. Apparently, there is a big rally nearby. Also, groups of cyclists that sound like birds as they chat to each other as they rush past. Out into the unspoilt countryside of an old pasture full of stock. This is an attractive area of rolling hills. I remember loving it when we arrived in North Bucks as it reminded me of my home in the Borders of Scotland. We made excellent progress, through Chearsley, where the vintage car rally was being held. Then on to the attractive village of Long Crendon where we had an excellent lunch in The Churchill, part tradition pub, part Thai restaurant. The afternoon was like much of the morning, through pleasant fields and woodland up onto an old disused railway line into Albury. Tom and I decided this had been one of our better walks of the past 14 days.
We collect 2 good friends from Oxford, who are joining us today. Not a good start as Tom walks along the main road in the wrong direction and has to be chased to get him to turn round. After setting off again, we follow through the village and then off into the countryside. I'm in front, in deep conversation with one of our friends, and Tom is behind doing the same with our other friend. Neither of us concentrating on the other. After about 10 minutes, we find the other 2 are nowhere to be seen. We have lost them! Phone calls are not answered. Eventually, we contact Richard, who identifies that Tom is some distance away, and Richard is given the task to go and pick them up. Leaving a garage near the M40 access, he finds himself on the M40 and has to drive all the way to Bicester before he can turn around. Eventually, Tom and I are reunited, both blaming each other for the mishap. The fault was probably mine as the Leader! We negotiated the complex triple roundabouts at the M40/A40 and found the footpath to Wheatley, having eventually found the underpass under the A40. We are greeted in Wheatley by a team of Community Emergency Foodbank volunteers, who give us a warm welcome, and we sit in the sunshine outside the village hall and eat lunch together. It was a lovely time and made me realise once again what a fantastic team of helpers that CEF is blessed with. On towards Oxford, over Shotover Park, enjoying several glimpses of the city, through the trees. Past the hospitals of The Nuffield, The Churchill and Littlemore, across South Park, and eventually arriving at the New Theatre where we are greeted by daughter Clare and Sue, who helped organise the trip. We enjoy a cream tea at The Quad restaurant, an excellent way to end a long journey!!
We've had our good times and not so good, but at this stage, we can look back and be proud of what we have achieved. We thank God for our safe arrival back and for our wonderful team, who have supported us throughout.
You can read Tom’s much fuller Blog on www.zane.uk.com
"At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality”
Please contact Jane Benyon