Kathryn Harries - Soprano

Saturday, June 17, 2006

A cow's point of view...

Diana and I got up at 6.15am – yes, four hours of sleep – washed and dressed as quietly as possible, had a quick breakfast and drove back to Wing in Diana’s car.
We’d agreed with Lorna the previous evening that she should have the day off nannying us and spend Saturday catching up with paper work. She would pick us up at the end of the day and run us back to Wing where we were going to leave Diana’s Mazda.
The main reason for getting up so horribly early after such a late night was to do a reasonable amount of walking before it became uncomfortably hot. The weather forecast for the weekend was for more blisteringly high temperatures; not an appealing prospect when trying to cover more than 20 miles.
Yesterday evening we asked the landlord’s permission to park in the pub car park for the day – and he kindly agreed we might do so.
We chose the shadiest spot we could find, gathered together our rucksacks, maps and several bottles of water each and strolled out of the car park and into the village.
The temperature was blissfully cool and the slight breeze carried the subtle fragrance of jasmine and roses. We ambled rather than strode along the pavements to loosen up our muscles and enjoyed the peace and quiet of early morning in the glorious countryside.
After an uneventful few miles on minor roads we reached the beautiful little village of Deene; it was already very hot and we both needed a pee – is this a problem of middle-age? Do you need to go more frequently after a certain birthday? Perhaps it was just the quantity of water we were drinking but whatever the reason, we looked in vain for a loo.
Studying the map on a grassy bank took our minds off our bladders and we opted to backtrack slightly and walk along a footpath into Deene Park.
We walked into the park and stood admiring a sizable lake covered in shiny yellow water lilies – I went through the usual ridiculous rigmarole to take a photo and as we turned onto the path again we stopped dead.
Blocking our way were twenty or more Friesian cattle; we looked at them and they looked at us for a long minute and no one moved. It was like another scene from a cowboy film where the Goody and the Baddy face each other in the main street while all the townsfolk run for cover.
Bugger this for a game of soldiers, I said, and walked into them waving my cap. They moved higgledy piggledy out of my way and revealed… a very large bull.
He and his latest squeeze were, by good fortune, on the other side of a cattle grid so Diana and I hopped over a stile and crossed a stream to what we thought was safety.
We were WRONG.
As we hopped over another stile into the next field, lo and behold, we were greeted by the bull and his girlfriend who’d simply walked around the thicket of bushes through which we’d passed and which we’d assumed separated one field from the other.
What a statuesque figure he made; what a big boy he was, in every sense of the word; and how close we all were to each other…
Diana and I looked at him, looked at each other, looked at him again and began to sidle very gently along the fence in the opposite direction to the one we wanted. ‘Walk normally,’ she whispered. ‘No problem,’ I whispered back. And we slowly angled our route up and over the hill, avoiding his harem and multitude of progeny, until we were well clear of the lot of them and could have a nervous laugh.
He, of course, was king of all he surveyed and didn’t give a monkey’s about two pathetic female humans; and I must say, from a cow’s point of view, he was rather a hunk.
We strolled onwards, admiring what must have been Deene Hall to our left, and with the threat of being gored behind us, the need to pee returned tenfold. Diana must have a bigger bladder than me – mind you, she doesn’t drink as much water as I do. Whatever, I could wait no longer and nipped behind a handy tree. Oh joy, oh rapture.
Lighter now and with renewed vigour in my step, I ran a couple of hundred yards across the grass to join her as she reached a copse. The footpath sign indicated straight on over the stile, so this we did and entered the cool darkness of the densely growing woodland. The narrow path meandered before us and as I led the way, Diana gave up the unequal struggle and nipped behind a tree. HA!
Within moments, I emerged from the trees and was faced in every direction with impenetrable thickets of five foot tall stinging nettles. Where the bloody hell had the path gone? I picked up a stick and thrashed about in an unsuccessful fashion reminiscent of a field trip up the Amazon; and when Diana caught up we agreed that all the Anthisan in the world wouldn’t be enough to soothe the nettle rash that would result should we be stupid enough to push our way forward. So we made our way back through the wood, over the stile and towards a gateway.
It said in very large letters; WAY OUT.
So, with red faces and tingling, stinging legs, we followed the signs until we walked under an impressive archway and out on to the A43. What a pair of pillocks.
We crossed the main road and wended our way up hill for a short way before turning right along a quiet lane that eventually led us onto what we thought was a disused airfield. As we walked along what I suppose must once have been a runway, a hare suddenly darted out from the undergrowth to our right; it dashed away from us, zig-zagging like a lunatic until it bolted into the grass further along. Then back to silence and the glare of the midday sun.
We gave a first class impression of startled deer as a microlight flew over us without warning; the whining buzz ripped through the air like a circular saw and, shading our eyes, we watched as it motored through the sky like an ungainly invention of Heath Robinson.
The shadeless runway went on and on and on, taking us parallel to the north of Corby on our left, past some aircraft hangars where more microlights were stored until, eventually, we turned right onto a bridleway that brought us to the A 427.
We crossed over onto another bridlepath and after a trouble-free, cattle-free few miles ended up in Brigstock. We stopped at the first pub we came to – the Three Cocks – and staggered out of the bright sunlight into the comparative gloom of the bar. It was fairly full and I was acutely aware that my wearing shorts was a really bad idea; we ordered our drinks and jacket potatoes from the charming lady behind the bar while the mostly male customers looked us up and down in flush-inducing scrutiny.
Sidling past testosterone-packed males seemed to be the order of the day so we slid into a safe and solitary corner of the pub where we ate a very enjoyable meal. The barmaid very generously offered to fill our empty water bottles for free and put them in the freezer to chill until we were ready to leave.
We took advantage of the facilities, comme toujours, and as she handed us our water bottles, the kindly barmaid asked us where we were walking. A grave error from her point of view because we told her.
Leaving the pub, we had to shade our eyes against the brightness of the day. The heat was now very intense and we walked in whatever shade was available as we took quiet lanes and footpaths due south through Cranford St Andrew and Cranford St John.
While we sat for a few minute’s rest on a handy bench, a car containing four well-dressed young people drew up and the front passenger asked us fumily for directions to Cranford Hall. Diana had the map so Diana got up to help them; what a star. They appeared to take in what she had to say – even though more than a little drink had already been taken – and with jovial cries of thanks they proceeded to drive fifty or so yards round the corner to their destination.
Johnny rang to say that after expenses the concert last night made over £4,000 which was terrific and a sizable addition to the funds.
Diana and I eased ourselves stickily off the bench and, toiling in the now unbearable heat, we left the Cranfords. Within a mile we took a footpath that led us across a field and unbelievably down a flight of steps onto the A 14.
This dual carriageway is like a motorway and the average speed of the cars and lorries along the stretch we wanted to cross must be well over seventy miles an hour. Traffic whooshed past in a constant stream and we looked at each other in horror. Diagonally across the four lanes of tarmac was another flight of steps leading into a field on the opposite side, so this was evidently the official way forward.
So, like racehorses in the starting stalls, we waited for a gap in the traffic and shouting, ‘GO!’ we legged it as fast as we could to the central reservation. Whew! And then we had to do it all over again to get to the other side; this was beginning to feel like one of those ‘why did the chicken cross the road?’ jokes.
We climbed the steps and followed the grassy footpath across a scorchingly hot meadow. I felt like yelling at the sun to bugger off because it was really unpleasant and I kept thinking that heat stroke was but a whisper away. Oh, the relief to leave the unforgiving open field and walk along a short stretch of shady road.
It didn’t last long, however, and within a quarter of a mile we were back on the blistering tarmac and heading for Great Addington.
Diana had kept up with me all day without any difficulty but now, because I wanted to get out of the sun as fast as possible, I lengthened my stride and the distance between us opened up. I hot-footed it – literally – up and down the hills heading for the church spire that appeared tantalisingly from time to time.
I reached the Jag, which Lorna had parked beside the church, several minutes before Diana and I hopped into the back seat to avoid the full blast of the air conditioning which makes me cough like an idiot. It’s a boring singer thing.
Diana arrived, plonked herself on to the front seat and map-read us back to Wing while I fell instantly asleep and nodded and drooled attractively in the back. A cup of tea would have been lovely, but Lorna hadn’t thought to bring any hot water or tea bags. Oh well…
Once back at the pub in Wing, Diana and I got into the Mazda, waved goodbye to Lorna and drove back to Stretton.
Now, you might think that having walked 23 ½ miles we’d have had enough exercise for the day. And you’d probably be right. But Helen had offered to take Diana and me out for a ride that evening and we weren’t going to pass up the opportunity.
So, back at Rookery Farm, we changed out of shorts into trousers, borrowed half-chaps and riding helmets and went into the GH stable yard to get the horses ready.
Diana rode Emily’s clever little black and white pony, Keely, I borrowed Helen and Dom’s very large and very forward going mare, Vanity, Helen GH was on her smart young performance horse, James and the other Helen had borrowed a rather handsome grey fellow called Jack.
We rode out through the village in two pairs, chatting and enjoying the coolness of the evening air. The motorists were mostly considerate, slowing down and giving us lots of room as they passed. Out of the blue, James shied violently at something in the hedgerow and pushed Van into a sports car that was creeping past – and fortunately, it was only her tail that swished across the car’s paintwork and nothing more substantial. The gasps from behind me told me how close a call it was and it reminded me that there are around 3,000 accidents each year involving horses and motor vehicles. The two Helens knew of two local women who’d had serious road accidents whilst riding; one died, the other was paralysed from the neck down. A sobering thought.
If you don’t already do so, please, please, please drive slowly past horses giving them as wide a berth as possible; it might save someone’s life.
We left the roads and walked and trotted across beautiful rolling meadows and giant fields of corn, through Clipsham Quarry and along wide inviting bridleways. Van was extremely keen to gallop but as Helen said her brakes weren’t much cop, I held her to a reluctant trot and she thought I was a total spoilsport.
We got home around nine, washed off the horses and joined Johnny on the terrace for a barbecue.
My God, Helen’s a lucky girl; he cooked butterflied lamb on the barbecue and it was gorgeous. Melt in the mouth delicious. We all drank far too much – oh what a surprise – before repairing to the sitting room to watch a recording of Katie’s concert which took place last week.
She sang like a pro and shows every sign of having what it takes to be a star.
Lorna fell fast asleep on the sofa and had to be woken up to walk across to Helen and Dom’s.
Diana and I shall be doing the same thing tomorrow and giving her a day off nannying. She can pick us up wherever we finish and hopefully have a good rest during the day. She looks pale, drawn and exhausted. Perhaps a walk in the fresh air would do her good…

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