Kathryn Harries - Soprano

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Walk before you can run

As all the Graham Halls had to leave the house by 8am, Lorna and I agreed last night that I’d phone her at seven to waken her and we’d load up the Jag at 7.30am.
She was bang on time and after emptying everything out of the car, we repacked before saying our goodbyes and thank yous.
The traffic on the A1 was moving freely and in no time at all I fell fast asleep. I was woken some time later by Lorna’s voice; ‘which junction was it?’ I forced my eyes open just in time to see Junction 7 coming up; ‘it was Junction 8 – go off here!’
So, off we went round the roundabout and back on the A1 going north. It wasn’t many miles before Junction 8, where we exited safely before pulling up in the lay by where I finished last evening.
We looked at the map – we were both working off the same one today which made life a lot easier. Agreeing to meet the other side of Stevenage, we parted company and I made for the giant roundabout which I had to negotiate before I could follow the A602 into town.
Several mad dashes later I was on my way along cycle tracks cum footpaths all the way into and through Stevenage. I was truly astonished that the provision for pedestrians was so fantastic and I fair raced through Stevenage and out the other side.
Picking up the B road to Knebworth I phoned Toria in Oz and had a five minute chat. It was so lovely to hear her voice and it made me realise how much I’ve missed her over the past two and a half years.
Knebworth came and went and, spotting a Tesco supermarket on the right hand side of the road, I decided to nip in and see if they had a café and facilities. Lorna drove past me with a toot and continued past Tesco and across the next roundabout. As I also needed more water, I phoned her double quick and asked her to come back and meet me in the supermarket car park.
There wasn’t a café but there were facilities, and by the time I came out into the car park Lorna was there with a bottle of water at the ready.
Another look at the map and we agreed to meet at Cole Green, which was a good six or seven miles further on. I took two bottles of water as the day was very warm indeed and I do drink an enormous amount when I’m walking. And this, of course, is why I’m constantly on the look out for facilities.
I’d seen a sign in Knebworth saying that London was 27 miles away and it gave me a jolt; the end was in sight and today would be the last full day’s walking on the Opera Walk.
What surprised me about the whole day from here on was the countryside through which I walked. I meandered down narrow, sandy lanes between high hedges and felt that I could have been in the wilds of Pembrokeshire rather than a day’s hike from London. Motorists were polite and the day had a charmed feel about it. The air was warm and pleasant and the bird song was spectacular. I was in seventh heaven and this proved to be one of the best day’s walking during the entire journey.
My map was not really adequate for the task but I guessed my way successfully by a series of footpaths through fields and woodlands until, to my great surprise, I stumbled upon Lorna at Cole Green.
The Jag was parked on the grass in the shade of a huge horse chestnut in full, glorious leaf; she kindly set out the folding chair and I finished the pasta salad I’d started yesterday, had a refreshing cup of tea, sighed a lot at all the beauty before me and then continued onward.
Our next meeting was to be Cuffley and the distance some seven miles or so. As I walked through Letty Green, I suddenly stopped and then walked forward as quietly as I could. On the bank to my right and completely unaware of my presence, was grazing the tiniest rabbit I’ve ever seen. I watched, spellbound. Gradually, it became conscious of the weight of my attention and its black, perfectly round shiny eyes grew larger and larger. In a trice it bounded away into the adjacent garden, its tiny tail bobbing white and fluffy as a puff of cloud.
Shortly after, I met a lady on an incredibly pretty odd-coloured horse and, as I was walking faster than they were, the horse was slightly spooked. I slowed so that we could pass the time of day and when I admired the horse, the rider said that she’d seen him in a field some years before and simply had to have him. And there they were having a great time together and horse and rider looked as though they were meant for each other. Love at first sight.
As I talked to Gill Cribbins on the mobile, I cut across a village green, onto a road heading south and unwittingly walked exactly the route I should have chosen had I had those wits about me.
We had a longish chat and when she asked where I was I had to admit I wasn’t entirely sure. Gill knows the area and fired a few names at me; I hadn’t a clue so when a car driver appeared whom I could ask, I said I’d phone her later and asked him where I was.
All credit to him, he didn’t bat an eyelash! I was precisely where I’d hoped I was and, thanks to him, I was able to cut another several miles off my walk to Cuffley. The angels up there must be sending people my way whenever I need them because they turn up time after time and save me miles.
So I battled my way to Newgate Street on a narrow country road that was evidently a tea time rat run, bore right down Carbone Hill on his instructions, and tried not to get killed by the speeding, unyielding traffic.
As he’d said, there was a well-marked path on the other side of the road that went directly to Cuffley Station and, having sprinted across in the few seconds when cars and lorries weren’t batting past, I gratefully followed the path which led me out of woodland, past neat and tidy houses to the main road. Turning right, and away from the station, I walked up through town, debated which way to go at a T junction, opted to go leftwards and as I marched along the pavement I rang Lorna to see where she was. I’d run out of water and needed supplies – and according to my map, I was about to negotiate an innocuous road that passed under the M25 and that would then take me slightly westwards to the A1005 at Botany Bay.
Lorna was a couple of miles behind me and off the route I planned to take, so as I carried on walking she set off to find me. This she did within ten minutes and after I’d replenished my water supplies, I asked her to scout my proposed route and let me know what it was like.
Off she drove, up the hill and out of sight. Looking at my map, I reckoned that the turning I wanted was at the top of the hill and when I got there, not having heard a dicky bird from my scout I gave her a ring and asked if I was correct. Indeed I was and Lorna advised me that the innocuous road was actually rather dangerous and fast and there were no pavements at all. Grass verges, yes, but no proper footpath.
I dragged on my tabard once again and marched head on into the speeding cars and lorries. It was actually very dangerous but as it was now late in the day – gone 4.30pm – I needed to take the most direct route possible if I was to have a day off walking tomorrow. So I grinned and lumped it.
Lorna and I met in a precariously narrow lay-by just after I went under the motorway – which was, as usual, chock-a-block with traffic and at a virtual standstill.
We agreed that as it was 4.45pm and we didn’t want to be late arriving at Serge Hill, home of Sir Murray Stuart-Smith and his family, she would estimate how long the journey would take us if I stopped as planned at six. I would walk for as long as I could but stop in order to arrive at our hosts by 7.30pm in time for dinner at 8.
And that was the last I heard from her until 6.15pm.
I walked on up the hill and then right handed onto a road with a narrow pavement. What a relief it was to be able to stop hopping on and off the grass verge every five seconds. I had a brief chat with Mum and Dad followed by an abortive attempt to cut a corner off my route by taking a footpath. Two charming ladies suggested that the road would be a better option so I duly back-tracked and as I reached the T-junction at Botany Bay I had my first and totally thrilling view of London.
It was a clear day and I could see for miles and miles; I was pretty high up above Enfield Chase and I cursed the fact that I’d left my camera in the car so as to walk faster without encumbrances.
After a few moments of feeling really quite stunned by the sudden and unexpected sight of my destination, I pulled myself together and went eastwards along the A1005. I looked in vain for a path that would cut across Enfield Chase and was obliged to walk two sides of a triangle to reach the entrance to Trent Park which was almost due south of Botany Bay.
Having heard nothing for ages from Lorna, I tried to phone her and realised to my horror that my mobile’s battery was almost dead. As I pondered what to do, it bleeped and I picked up a text message from her: ‘Where are you? We mustn’t be late for Sir Murray’. I texted back as fast as I could and told her where I was and asked her to pick me up at the northern entrance to Trent Park. No reply. And now I was at the entrance and not sure what to do. So I texted again, fearful that the phone would give out at any minute. No reply.
Just as I was beginning to wonder what the hell to do, she texted me again saying Sir Murray wasn’t bothered about the time of our arrival and she was staying where she was at Cockfosters.
I couldn’t respond – my phone had quietly given up the ghost.
So, having walked 25 miles already, I ran the last mile – except for the uphill bit, I have to be honest – all the way through the park and to the southern entrance where Lorna was waiting. Hmmm.
We drove up the A111, joined the M25 going east and following the superb directions Sir Murray had given us, we reached Serge Hill by 7.20pm.
Sir Murray and his wife, Joan, met us in their driveway and helped us carry our belongings to our bedrooms.
I was deeply aware of how frightfully sweaty and horrible I looked after my run and it was a truly surreal experience to be shown into a bedroom that was fit for a king. It was breathtakingly lovely.
I showered and Lorna bathed hurriedly before joining Murray, Joan and their daughter Kate for dinner at the kitchen table. Murray and Joan had kindly offered not only to put us up for two nights but to host a soiree in their music room. More than sixty people had been invited and they’d spent the day moving masses of furniture out of the house and into a barn so that chairs could be set out ready for the concert tomorrow evening.
How wonderfully generous they are to show support for the Opera Walk by turning their beautiful house upside down and laying on not only a concert, but also dinner for seventy afterwards. I was hugely impressed by both Murray and Joan; they are the most admirable people who, after lifetimes of colossal achievement, showed us unstinting generosity and kindness.
And this is what had been one of the chief joys of the Opera Walk; meeting the most fantastic people. Some have been old friends and others, hopefully, will be new ones. But it is very humbling to know that these dear and special ladies and gentlemen have made it possible for me to realise the idea that became the Opera Walk.
After a much-appreciated dinner, Lorna went to her room whilst Kate took me to her part of the house to connect my lap-top to their broadband. We had a great chat as I floundered my way to success and actually managed to make the connection. I learned that this too was a three generation household like mine – the house was bigger by far, but the pleasure and joy we each derived from living with our parents and children was equal.
Maybe it’s an unusual arrangement – and maybe for many people it would be disastrous. But it’s not, I’m happy to say, for either my family or for hers.
She showed me how to find my way back to my bedroom – I could have done with a map – and after brushing my teeth, I fell into bed, turned out the light and dreamed of tomorrow.

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