Kathryn Harries - Soprano

Monday, June 19, 2006

A terrible visitation

Well, the beginning of the final week. I can’t believe how quickly the time has passed and how this project will soon be history. Carpe diem.
We don’t know what’s around life’s corner – though in my case, it’s likely to be a large lorry – and we must all make the most of the time we’ve got.
Today was Johnny’s first night of the Marriage of Figaro at Covent Garden; you’d never have known because life went on as normal at Rookery Farm and he made no singerish song and dance about it at all.
Helen was working at the Almeida again rehearsing a Michael Nyman piece. It opens in about three weeks and sounds very interesting.
The girls were off to school and Lorna and I planned to set off around nine and head down the A1 to Great Barford. While I was in the bedroom doing my feet, I heard sirens and hooting and wondered if there’d been an accident. When Lorna arrived and we drove out of Rookery Farm, it only took a glance at the A1 to see that there’d been a major shunt somewhere further along and we’d best take another route. We drove to Oakham and then onto the A1 at Stamford avoiding both the accident and its consequences and reached the lay-by where Diana and I had finished the night before.
Lorna was on excellent form and we agreed that she should meet me the other side of Great Barford and generally keep close for the day. I planned to spend most of the time on main roads which always made life an awful lot simpler for both of us. The weather today was good for walking; warm and dry, with quite a lot of high cloud and a light breeze and I set off, minus my rucksack, and quickly settled into a loping rhythm along the road.
Almost immediately a large hare dashed out from the field on my right and in its bewilderment ran ahead of me along the central white line. I was on the phone to Gill Cribbins at the time and she had a blow by blow account of its progress. I feared for its life as the road carried a good deal of heavy traffic and when a large tractor pulling a trailer passed me going towards Great Barford I thought the hare’s number was up.
Had it been a rabbit, maybe the farmer would have accelerated and finished the job, but hares were evidently different. The tractor driver slowed and kept behind the hare which was ducking and diving in terror until it eventually took a mammoth leap into the grass on the left of the road and disappeared. And that was after a good quarter of a mile of dicing with death. What a relief – for me, for Gill – and I dare say, for the hare.
I reached Great Barford in what seemed no time at all and as I approached the main road that passes through the village a very eccentrically dressed gentleman doffed his hat to me and smilingly said, ‘good morning.’ I couldn’t doff my baseball cap because my hands were full of water bottles, my camera and map. But I returned his greeting with a big smile and thought how good manners do make life so much pleasanter.
Dodging the constant stream of cars and lorries on the main road, I walked out of the village, over a very pretty bridge that reminded me of the narrow bridge at Betchworth in Surrey. Lorna was waiting on the other side, tucked neatly into a gateway and she handed me a Kit Kat to see me through the next few miles. We agreed to meet in Moggerhanger – what a fearful name and I hope it had nothing to do with unspeakable things being done to innocent Moggies.
As I walked, I admired the wild flowers in the verges and hedgerows; bright, brave poppies danced in the corn fields and everywhere looked fresh and full of promise.
My need for the loo came upon me like a terrible visitation and as I was walking through the suburbs of Blunham, there was no way I could nip behind a convenient hedge or into a handy field. It’s bloody difficult walking with crossed legs and I was within an inch of disgracing myself when I spotted Harpers Children's Nursery. I crossed the road, rang the bell, put them in the picture and, bless them a million times, they let me in and allowed me to use their Ladies. That really was a close call and I’m beginning to think that incontinence pads might be a very good thing should I ever wish to long-distance walk again.
Thank you, thank you, thank you, Harpers Nursery. You saved me from a horrible and very messy fate.
I took a right turn to Moggerhanger and followed the road without paying much attention. Because I was on the phone, I missed a crucial turning and as has happened time and again, someone popped up out of nowhere and put me on the right path. This time it was a charming older lady on a ladder who was clipping her hedge.
So, I blithely followed her instructions, admiring the largely flat countryside as I walked, and arrived at one of the worst B roads I’ve ever had the misfortune to encounter on foot – in my entire life.
How I didn’t get thoroughly squashed I’ll never know. I shouted and cursed my way into Moggerhanger like a certifiable lunatic.
It wasn’t a route Lorna would have scouted because she expected me to arrive on minor roads; it was entirely my own stupid fault and I was very lucky indeed to live to fight another day.
It was now very definitely an urban landscape but I could still detect ‘eau de vache’ in the air; I think some muck spreading had been going on quite recently and the warm air was redolent of cow. And I have to add that the smell of cows is one that I find very warm and comforting – except when they’re threatening to kill me.
Lorna and I found each other and after exchanging an empty bottle of Buxton Water for a full one, we agreed to meet three miles further on at Northill.
Lorna had much more joie de vivre today so hopefully the comparatively restful weekend did her good.
Out of Moggerhanger and on the road to Northill I passed a huge field full of onions that were being turned over by a tractor. I wondered whether it was a restful or stressful way to pass the time. The onions lay in neat, straight lines ready to be picked up and transported to their future and the air was heavy with their pungent scent.
I didn’t stop in Northill because I wanted to make as many miles as possible before lunch so I met Lorna in Ickwell where I sat down for ten minutes, ate some lunch, made a continuous stream of phone calls before levering myself out of the folding chair and carrying on.
Ickwell was yet another really pretty village and on one side of the green there stood a very tall pole with a small crown on the top. A maypole I presumed – something I don’t recall having seen on any of my wanderings to date.
While Lorna went back to Northill to have some lunch in a pub, I walked on to Old Warden; it was absolutely fantastic. One wonderful thatched house after another. And the red brick houses had a mellowness about them that was sadly lacking in places like Irthlingborough. I suppose it all boils down to money in the end…
As I consulted my map, I was reminded of a conversation I had with Diana on Saturday; she told me about the lady who decided after the Second World War that it would be a really good idea to create a London street map. So she walked every single London street, charting every one as she went, and it became known as the A to Z. She died not so long ago at a very advanced age – all that walking I expect. What a marvellous idea and what a splendid character to bring the idea so practically to life.
Another piece of interesting information; there are apparently mistakes in the real A to Z so that if anyone produces an unauthorised map by copying the original, the manufacturers of the original will know straight away and deal with the offenders in the time honoured fashion.
Bloody nuisance if the deliberate mistake happens to be just the street you were looking for.
I passed Shuttleworth College with its multitude of tall towers; on a triangle of grass by the entrance were two posters: one was for a concert featuring Abba, Elton John and Queen and the other was for a concert billed as the original Flying Proms featuring the Guildford Philharmonic Orchestra with spectacular flying displays. An interesting concept…
There were several thatched cottages which had roofs that were configured like quizzical eyebrows over the bedroom windows and a couple of lychgate like constructions containing ancient pumps. One had a tiled roof and the other was very neatly thatched but I have no idea whether or not they still function.
The gardens I passed were immaculate; and as the road had recently been resurfaced, all the traffic passed by extremely sedately. Not because they didn’t want to kill the nasty pedestrian – they didn’t want to scratch their paintwork.
Even in this village there were England flags on display and I pondered on the pros and cons of such an exhibition. Some people find it alarmingly jingoistic while others think it’s an encouraging sign of unity amongst the population. I stayed firmly on my comfortable fence and came to no decision at all.
I walked through Shefford and went adrift when I turned right at the High Street. A very helpful and genial builders’ merchant put me right and it actually was a blessing in disguise because he told me how to get to the A600 by the shortest route. He was spot on and saved me several miles.
I walked at a good clip and must have looked seriously strange because two men I passed and to whom I said ‘good afternoon’ actually shied away from me making gurgling noises and with terror in their eyes.
So I can surely say to my Mum and Dad, who worry incessantly about my safety, that when I’m walking long-distance people scatter at my approach.
I strode womanfully past Henlow Greyhound Stadium and wondered whether any of Gill Cribbins’ greyhounds had ever run here. And then I spotted Lorna by a parade of shops and stopped for some pasta salad. She gave me a lovely cup of tea which revived me very nicely and after ten minutes maximum I was on my way once more – this time to Hitchin in Hertfordshire.
Hitchen was four and a half miles further on and my plan to reach Codicote was fading fast as it was now getting on for 5pm.
A striped school tie lay on the pavement in front of me and, though I ignored it at first, my conscience got the better of me and I went back, picked it up and tied it around a nearby lamppost as if tying it around someone’s neck. I debated whether to do a Windsor knot but decided that would be a step too far.
Pressing on with my head down, I forgot to look at my surroundings. When I did, I was very surprised to see that although I was walking beside the painfully noisy A600, on either side were great corn fields rippling into the distance and elegant, ancient houses dotted here and there.
My left leg was giving me a bit of gyp because I tweaked a muscle in my thigh riding on Saturday evening. When I consulted my GPS watch I could see that my average speed was under my usual 3.5 to 3.6 and I was sitting at 3.3 miles an hour. Not bad, but not especially good.
And then the urgent need for facilities came upon me once again like a Biblical curse and to my amazement, no sooner had I had that very thought, than a pub called the Angel’s Reply arose before me. How very apt and how extraordinarily fortuitous.
Five minutes later and feeling very much better, as I crossed a side road I stepped in front of a car bearing the number plate ENO---. It missed and I resolved to take more care.
I walked into Hitchen and was diverted by lack of pavement into the old town away from the A602. What an unexpectedly pretty place, full of interesting shops and intriguing nooks and crannies. I guessed my way through the streets, up a steep hill and by some miracle arrived bang on the road I wanted.
It was evidently going to be pavements most of the way from now on so I agreed with Lorna over the phone that I’d meet her near Great Wymondley which would place us close to the A1 for the journey home.
She, poor soul, got there ages before me and then, for some inexplicable reason, instead of waiting for me went the wrong way down the A 602 and got stuck in a colossal traffic jam. When I phoned to say I was close to Little Wymondley she was miles away, so I said I’d just keep on walking until she caught me up. And I must say I was secretly pleased because it meant that when she did find me, I was almost on top of Junction 8 of the A1. A total distance of 25 miles and an excellent position to start again tomorrow.
A slightly frazzled Lorna picked me up at 7pm and we made very good time back to Stretton, arriving as we did, an hour later. Helen’s Mum cooked us a most delicious dinner and afterwards, as both Johnny and Helen were going to be late home, we said our goodnights and went to bed.

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