Kathryn Harries - Soprano

Saturday, June 03, 2006

A very good day all round

No walking today. I typed up the programme on my computer and waited, not always patiently, as my tiny printer very slowly produced a hundred or so sheets to go into the concert shells which have been kindly donated by Cantate Print Ltd.
Jane Davies and I had lunch in the garden on what has turned into a spectacularly gorgeous day and we celebrated her birthday today. I am deeply envious of her tiny waist as well as her gigantic brain. Life is not always fair.
I gathered my concert things together while the printer staggered through the last twenty programme sheets and waited for Lorna to arrive to transport us to Milton, Staffs for the rehearsal.
She arrived ¾ hr late, but we eventually made it to the church where the rehearsal was well in progress.
A huge thank you to Graeme Danby, his wife Val Reid, Johnny and his wife Helen Williams, Jill Phillips, and the brilliant accompanist Annette Saunders for coming up to Milton to perform for absolutely nothing. What generosity. And what a wonderful concert it was; fantastic singing and playing to an audience who really enjoyed every moment. The raffle, donations in the plate and ticket money will have brought in around six hundred pounds, so well done Milton Methodist Church, Mrs Washington and her team and to the delightful lady vicar for giving us the use of the church for nothing. A big success and a very good day all round.
Jill and Pam took me back to Rainow and, as we were all starving, we stopped at what we thought was a fish and chip shop close to Macclesfield. With the ironic inevitability I’m beginning to associate with this walk, they no longer served fish and chips. So we had Thai instead and it was fab. We crept into Wyn and Jane’s and made as little noise as possible while we munched our way through the freshly cooked and delicious take-away. Jane had gone to bed early as she’s off on a work trip tomorrow. We giggled and tidied up in whispers and then they were gone into the night. I retired to bed, replete and pretty knackered if truth be told.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Relief. Blessed relief.

I’m getting used to dry weather remarkably quickly. Lorna picked me up and we drove back to Dove Holes where she took a photo of me by the Jag for Guy Salmon back in Thames Ditton.
While she returned to Buxton to do various jobs, I set off towards Chapel-en-le-Frith, which is certainly a name to conjure with.
There was a pavement or footpath all the way which was a real treat, and I skirted the centre of the village and headed for Glossop.
I’m aware of quizzical glances as I walk through built-up areas because I stride out much more energetically than, say, people doing their shopping; and the blue leggings are certainly a questionable fashion statement!
As I entered Chapel Milton, I began to tackle real hills; a wonderful viaduct straddles the village and, with its lofty blackened brick, it looked like invitation to travel.
On the long, steep hill that climbs out of Chapel Milton, I felt an ominous stirring in my tummy that meant ‘facilities’ would soon be required.
I slogged on and on, hoping that said facilities would hove into sight, and just as I was beginning to think that a mad dash into a nearby (and rather exposed) field would have to suffice, fate stepped in and I came upon the Lamb Inn.
I hurried across to the entrance, praying it would be open, and having ordered a coffee, did a barely disguised, cross-legged shuffle to the Ladies.
Relief. Blessed relief.
And when I returned to the bar, my Rambout’s coffee was waiting. It was just the job and when I came to pay, the lady behind the bar made the grave mistake of asking me where I was walking…
She took it bravely on the chin when I replied ‘Leeds’ and we had a very entertaining chat for ten minutes.
I can recommend the Lamb Inn for the friendliness of the people running it, the elegant comfort of the bars, the delicious coffee and, of course, the ladies facilities.
They don’t do bed and breakfast, sadly, because one day I’d like to come up to Derbyshire and walk across country rather than dicing with death on the roads.
From this point on there were no pavements worth speaking of; I had some grass verges for a while and then it was into the road and head on into traffic. Every hill climb was rewarded with a spectacular view, but I had to stand still to see it or fall over my feet under a car or container lorry. I’ll have to write a book called ‘Katie and the Juggernauts’ after the legend of Jason and his Argonauts. Maybe I’ll make a fortune – hmm.
On one particularly dangerous stretch, where what passed for a pavement was six inches wide, I climbed a dry-stone wall onto the grassy strip between the wall and the adjoining field and walked along above the traffic. I continued in like fashion for a mile or two, jumping down onto the road when the grassy, elevated ground petered out and climbing more walls to get above the roadway whenever I could.
There were patches of ‘access’ land which enabled walkers to cut across seriously dangerous bends – well done County Council and farmers alike – but at one point I had no option but to run down the road when it was clear, then jump onto the minute kerb and flatten myself against the wall to avoid being run over. I ran about a mile this way, mercifully downhill; I ran when I was little, but I hate the way all your bits jiggle when you run as an adult.
Eventually, Glossop appeared like a distant mirage before me; there was yet more unpleasant road to negotiate, so I cut across country on footpaths until I reached the town. It was longer but infinitely preferable.
One nice moment – Lorna and I briefly met in a lay-by, a postman drove in from the other direction. As he got out of his van, he did a double-take and said, ‘you’re that girl who’s walking and singing’ etc,etc. (I thought ‘girl’ was an especially nice touch.)
It turned out he listened to Classic FM and was a great fan of the lovely Jane Jones – so thanks Jane for spreading the good word. And thanks to Colin the postman for his encouraging words and even more encouraging advice on off-road options to Glossop.
Lorna went off to check out the roads ahead and I sat in the sunshine on a wall in Glossop having a chat with Johnny Graham Hall on my mobile. The dismal dampness of the past couple of weeks seemed a distant memory in the midday warmth and, while we discussed concert programmes for the forthcoming weekend, I could rest and enjoy the glow of survival-yet again.
Then onwards through Glossop and out on a very pleasant B road which carried little heavy traffic. My stick broke, which was ludicrously like losing an old friend – dear, dear. And it’s now laid to rest in a Derbyshire hedgerow.
Lorna and I met in a pub car park for lunch and she filled me in on the state of the roads to come.
I set off after a very short break and, making the most of access land, either paralleled or walked along the winding B road. I had one wonderfully surreal moment when, faced with an oncoming motorcyclist, I stumbled on the verge and landed flat on my face in front of him. He very kindly slowed, and drove around me – and I put yet another hole in my leggings and my knee. What a pillock.
To my left were a series of dams/reservoirs and with the sun blazing down they sparkled and shimmered invitingly.
I spotted a long pathway beside the water and legged it down a steep field until I reached it. Yipee! It was the Trans Pennine Trail and I was able to follow it eastwards beside the reservoirs and within sight of the road.
I had plans to cut up north towards Holmfirth, but Lorna’s scouting ahead unfortunately failed. My B road joined with an A road after which there was a mile before the turning I wanted; I needed to know whether it was fit to walk on and Lorna wasn’t sure how much pavement there was. So I opted to stay on the other side of the water until I could cross, which I couldn’t, it transpired.
I walked miles beyond my turning, catching a glimpse of the road I wanted winding away into the hills across the broad expanse of water. So I looked at the map and decided on another cunning plan. I met Lorna to replenish my water supplies and then spent a very pleasant hour and a half walking the TPT in an easterly direction. My only companions were sheep with fat lambs and cattle standing guard over their calves. The climb was ferocious but looking back over the tiers of reservoirs was magic; the sun had turned the water to silver and the black silhouette of hills rising into a clear blue sky was breathtakingly beautiful. Shame about the pylons that march across this glorious countryside like an army of metal giants. Wouldn’t it be great if all those wires could be piped underground.
Eventually Lorna and I met at Dunford Bridge and she drove me back to Buxton, where I was going to have dinner with friends of Jane.
First, we stopped at the bed and breakfast place where Jill and our great friend, Pam Potter, were staying. I won’t name it, other than to say it was Fawlty Towers revisited and expensive to boot.
I only had my walking clothes so I retrieved a clean Opera Walk T-shirt from the roped-down luggage box on the roof rack. The key jammed in the lock on day two and hasn’t been fixed yet, so a few girl-guide knots later it was roped down again and Lorna went home to Stoke.
Jill let me shower in her bathroom, and the tape that held the shower together immediately unravelled, so the showerheads bounced around the bath until I could retrieve it. See what I mean about Fawlty Towers.
And then, clean and wearing Pam’s black trousers as my leggings had quietly and finally disintegrated, the girls dropped me off at a typically lovely Buxton stone house and I had a great evening in great company.
I really look like an overdone chip now after all the sun today. My arms are rather red and I look more and more like a gypsy; I haven’t worn my shorts yet, however. I think I’ll save that for another day when I’m not walking through any towns! 23 miles.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

A brief foreword

Hello all, Will here.

Due to my Mum's lack of various things essential to writing a blog - regular access to the internet, computer literacy, a paid sub-editor - I shall be in charge of checking what she writes and posting it periodically. Necessary editing jobs therefore fall to me, such as the removal of excessive swearing (quite a task, I assure you), tidying up Mum's rather liberal approach when dealing with the humble comma, avoiding tiresome legal proceedings, and generally attempting to get the entries onto the site in an accurate and timely fashion.

You may have noticed that, with regards to the very last of these tasks, I have failed spectactularly. Fortunately I can just pass the buck, like any good editor, and blame the author herself: she has evidently found time to write prodigious quantities about the walk, quite how I do not know, but it has only recently winged its way to me. What I have received is really quite staggering in volume so, in order to avoid swamping you with the whole shebang, I shall be releasing it in installments, and slyly altering the dates shown so that it appears to have been published at the time of writing! At some point we may even catch up with the star herself - probably the only way any of us will be catching her! - and be able to read her entries almost as they are written.

Anyway, the first posts should appear below; I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I have. Feel free to write comments for each post, as I am sure Mum would be keen to hear from her readers.

Re-enter mad person

A considerably easier journey in the car to yesterday’s end point – a lay-by opposite a garage intriguingly emblazoned with the message ‘Shirley’s Transport’. Odd trains of thought are part of the fun of walking long distances every day and some trains of thought are deeply peculiar.
I did have a chance for meditation and reflection during the early part of today’s walk as it was all on pavements. Well, for a while. Grass verges took over again but good old tarmac won the day as I approached Leek.
The day started cloudy and it had rained during the night. So, ever the optimist, I carried my umbrella, wore my waterproof jacket and promptly roasted.
At our first meeting I offloaded the jacket and umbrella into the Jag and Lorna updated me on all manner of things that she’d dealt with during the hour I’d been walking.
I reached Leek really quickly – as you do on pavements – and asked a lady for directions to the nearest chemist’s shop. Now, I was perfectly aware of where I was on the map, but still nearly fell over with surprise when she answered me in a broad local accent.
I found Boots, had a prescription dispensed, and then made a complete arse of myself when I tried to buy a foreign to UK adaptor. I queued for an age, reached into my pocket and found that I was 50p short of the necessary. What a twit; I’d left my debit card in my backpack which was still in the car. So I had to abandon the purchase, mutter an apology and sidle out of the shop.
Fortunately, Lorna was not far from Boots, so she bought the blasted thing for me and I hope to have some photos to put on this site very soon. I bought my digital camera in the Netherlands so the charger has a two pin plug. And I’d left my own adaptor at home. Really organised – not.
Lorna and I met at a comfortable pub called ‘The Three Horse Shoes’ and I had a very nice sandwich and salad. It was a timely stop for fuel as I then tackled one of the biggest hills I’ve encountered on this walk.
Funnily enough, I don’t get at all out of breath on steep hills – it’s the concentration on oncoming traffic that’s tiring. The biggest danger when walking into oncoming traffic has proved to be people overtaking vehicles going in the same direction as me. By the end of the day I’d had four lucky escapes when overtaking cars missed me by what felt like a whisker. It probably wasn’t as close as it seemed, but each time it filled me with such rage that I stood and shouted swear words at the offending motorists and made violent gestures while jumping up and down on the spot. Re-enter mad person.
Walking over the moor had all the charm of walking across the Solway Firth. It was an endurance test; occasionally I stopped to admire the incredibly spectacular views, but for the most part I had my head bowed looking at the grass verge with total concentration so I didn’t trip and break something. The vehicles flew past at seriously high speed and every time a large lorry roared by, I was buffeted to a standstill by the wind they created. Motor bikes sped past doing a ton or more and God only knows how they don’t all get killed.
One fascinating thing about walking along a verge is all the objects that you come across; and then your train of thought spirals away and possible scenarios play across your inner eye.
I saw enough gardening type gloves to open a small shop and bits of number plates which made me speculate as to whether they were the result of horrible accidents. And shoes, lots of shoes. Why are there always shoes strewn across our roads? Do people just chuck them out of car windows or what?
Finally, and after hours of saying under my breath ‘this too will pass’, I reached Buxton where Lorna and I had tea and biscuits at the splendid Palace Hotel. The girl behind the reception desk very kindly said she’d display concert shells and donation forms for me, and after a ten minute sit down and refreshment I set off on the last hour and a half’s walking.
I ended up at Dove Holes after walking 24 miles and the last few hours were all on pavements. The A6 has miles of pavements and when I did my last long walk, I actually fell asleep whilst walking along. I was following Alan Peart, a great friend and my biggest fan, who’d joined me for three days, and he covers the ground like a machine with extra long legs. I suddenly woke up and realised I’d been asleep for several seconds during which I’d covered more than a few yards. How the hell I didn’t fall over or wander into the traffic, I’ll never know. Maybe it was just another example of sleep walking, but that time without the gin…
I really could have done another four miles this evening, but I thought we ought to stop and Lorna was very happy to concur. She gets quite tired after a day nannying me; I end the day full of energy because physical exercise begets energy. Driving in fits and starts and wondering whether I’ve survived or not is evidently a bit of a strain and responsibility which leaves Lorna worn out by the end of the day. But she’s enjoying staying with her mum and being looked after. And her mum is an absolute star; the concert at Milton is definitely sold out and Mrs Washington and her committee have done a fantastic job.
Buxton is a different story unfortunately and we’re all hoping that sales of tickets will improve radically over the next couple of days.
Eight comps are going to wonderful BUXTON WATER who have sponsored me once again on a long walk and I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all my sponsors and patrons again.
The support they’ve shown me has been marvellous – I only hope that millions of people will also take notice of what I’m doing and send their donations to the Opera Walk. It would be wonderful to make the future of the two Ben Funds more secure.
It was a nice short journey back to Rainow and Jill Phillips would have been proud of me; I cooked lamb chops and spring greens for my supper even though a sandwich would have done. And I started today with eggs and bacon and had loads more energy so I’ll have to try it again tomorrow. I may have to abandon the leggings, however, because when I’m walking through towns they provoke unseemly mirth particularly amongst the young – I suppose they do make me look like a refugee from a pantomime…..
Even though I’m doing all this walking I’m don’t think I’ve lost very much weight; and though I’ve always wanted elegant legs with nicely turned ankles, I have to say that I’m very proud of my good, plain, Welsh tree trunks that are serving me in stalwart fashion. As my old riding teacher, Mrs Esme Jack, used to say, ‘handsome is as handsome does’, and while my pins may be chunky, they certainly can cover miles and miles without any difficulty. So bugger elegance and hooray for strength and stamina!

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Bloody brilliant

My Dad was 83 today! Bloody brilliant. I wish both my parents could go on in good health forever.
And, another dry day – it’s a miracle! I said goodbye to Wyn and Jane; Wyn was off to Montreal for ten days’ rehearsal on a modern ensemble piece and Jane was off to Manchester until Friday evening. She runs a Science Park and calls herself a glorified landlady; given she’s one of the brightest and most formidable people I’ve ever met, her lodgers must count themselves extraordinarily lucky.
Lorna arrived in the Jag; thanks again to David Edwards at Guy Salmon of Thames Ditton. It’s a wonderful piece of sponsorship and David is about to embark on a cycle ride to Berlin to raise money for charity. I’ll find out more about it and let you know.
We had a very long drive back to Church Eaton – when we cover ground in the car that I’m going to have to walk, I can’t believe I’ll ever do it. Then I do, and it doesn’t seem nearly as far. Strange.
The walking was nice and straightforward along country lanes – just the odd pile of cow muck to avoid – and I walked through several villages to Great Bridgford where Lorna had some lunch ready for me.
I don’t stop for long now because I want to cover as many miles as possible each day, and when the day begins with a long drive, my walking starts rather late. And if I stop for very long everything seizes up somewhat…oh the joys of middle age!
I crossed the M6, which was unbelievably noisy and brought a phone conversation to an abrupt halt, and then followed a dead straight bridleway which paralleled the M6 and the A34. It was bliss not having to worry about traffic and it meant I could really look at the countryside properly.
I took off my fluorescent tabard – cows and sheep seem to find it disconcerting – and swung along just enjoying the day.
As I passed a beef farm, two farmers called out hello and asked if I was walking a long way. Well, I had to answer ‘Leeds’, didn’t I?
They came over and we had a good chat about the walk, beef cattle, the state of farming and life in general. They looked me up and down and plainly thought I was barking mad but after an enjoyable ten minutes wished me all the best for the rest of my journey and waved me goodbye.
I found Lorna outside a pub near Stone – she’s going to get a terrible reputation at this rate – and had the profound pleasure of using proper facilities inside the said pub.
I’d had to leap into a field for a pee earlier in the day and unwittingly parked my behind on a stinging nettle – that’ll teach me to look more closely in future!
I marched swiftly through Stone and out the other side; there was a pavement for several miles which was such a relief. But then it petered out and I was obliged to walk on grass verges and it was interminable.
Grass verges are rutted and uneven and sometimes turn into steep banks that are useless for a pedestrian. Cars and lorries passed by at high speed and only a few feet away. I would have to say that this was not the time for meditation or reflection; total concentration was required in order not to twist/break an ankle or, indeed, fall under a lorry.
Eventually, the grass verge turned into a pavement – I literally cheered – and I walked with rather hot and tired feet through Meir Heath.
I was determined to do a good mileage today so carried on to Cellarhead – an interesting name the origin of which I know nothing as yet.
I finished the day having walked 23 miles but my feet were really very tired for the first time. Perhaps the heat and the turning and twisting as I stumbled mile after mile along the grass verges made the poor old plates of meat a bit bruised. Whatever the reason, I was very happy to travel back to Rainow with my shoes off and sitting cross-legged on the front passenger seat. A ten minute shop at Tesco, supper and then bed. A girl can’t ask for more than that, I reckon.
I caught sight of myself in a convex mirror at the edge of a driveway last night and I honestly looked like a mad person. I’ve been wearing my old navy blue leggings (no chafing or flapping, if you’re interested), Opera Walk T-shirt, a blue baseball cap and either using my new stick or umbrella to propel me along. No wonder people don’t offer me lifts!

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

More than halfway there...

I packed up all my belongings and put them downstairs beside the front door. It was strange to be moving again and sad to be saying goodbye to Bridget and Kingsland. By the time I’d moved all the boxes of concert shells, donations forms, water and odds and sods from the dining room to the hall, I did have to wonder how on earth all this stuff was going to make it back into the car.
Bridget and her two long haired Dachsunds, Harriet and Stukeley bounced downstairs and we sorted out the world over breakfast.
Lorna joined and then we loaded up the Jag and were off.
I popped into Jackie and Brian’s to say goodbye and leave them a gift of wine and chocolates as a thank you; nipped into the post office to write and send a birthday card to my Dad who’s 83 tomorrow, and finally, we waved Kingsland farewell and drove for about an hour to reach yesterday’s stopping point at Worfield.
A quick consultation over the map and I started walking. Today was going to be a day of small country roads.
The weather was DRY and SUNNY. I couldn’t believe it would hold so marched along using my plaid umbrella as a walking stick. The lanes were meandering and rose up and down over the rolling hills with splendid views to each side.
I’d left Lorna with the instruction booklet for my watch and the watch itself as she’d kindly offered to have a go at finding the right screen for me.
Mum and Dad phoned, several people checked in to see how I was and then I had a long conversation with a charming lady from Radio Scotland. We arranged a time for a phone interview tomorrow and I heard myself say that I’d be happy to do a fund-raiser for Scottish Opera. I would, actually, because it’s a lovely company and they’ve had a really hard time of it over the last few years.
I turned off towards Badger; what a great name for a tiny village and it happens to be the name of a fantastic terrier I once had. I bought him as a minute black and white fur ball back in 1998 after I divorced my serially unfaithful husband. Badger kept our Labrador, Sox, company until poor old Sox suddenly died at the end of 1999 while I was working in Paris. Badger needed constant company and my make-up artist friend Lois Mackintosh was happy to take him on. They’ve been inseparable ever since and Badger has appeared in a number of films and TV programmes as well as making hordes of admiring fans wherever he goes.
Lorna and I met in Beckbury for a cup of tea standing by the car and then onwards. The sun shone, the traffic was sparse and the drivers mannerly. It was enjoyable walking.
Lorna and I met around 3pm at a rose garden/tea room but as they’d stopped serving lunch, I took an apple with me to eat as I walked; I’d started at midday and needed to keep going if I was to make decent mileage.
There are some amazing buildings in this part of Staffordshire; huge barns of red brick around large courtyards placed on ridges with far-reaching panoramic views.
I’d walked past Donnington aerodrome and watched a gleaming black jet fighter fly past at low altitude; as it rolled and banked, its wings shimmered in the sunshine and the roar of the engines ripped through the peace of the afternoon. It was a thrilling sight, but maybe not on a daily basis.
I crossed the A41 and then the M 54 and slowly made my way up the map towards Church Eaton west of Stafford where I stopped at 6.30 pm. There was one hairy stretch of road which had me leaping up and down onto the verge or into the hedge to avoid being mown down; it certainly concentrates the mind when you regard each car as your possible doom and as I stared the motorists down and leapt back and forth onto the grass as they raced past, I felt rather like a matador dodging a series of bulls doing seventy miles an hour.
Bishops Wood was an interesting little village with guys (as in Guy Fawkes not chaps) in every garden and by the name plate entering and leaving the village. I’m not sure what they were celebrating but it probably had its roots in ancient history and it gave a rather pagan air to the place.
I’d made 14.7 miles according to the GPS watch since Beckbury so today’s total was 20.7 miles. Not bad in an afternoon.
Lorna drove me to Rainow near Macclesfield where I shall be staying with friends, Wyn and Jane Davies, for just under a week.
The views from every window are astonishingly beautiful and it’s going to be a treat to stay in one place again for more than a day or two.
And it was great to catch up with two long-standing friends who happen to be two of the brightest people I’ve ever met. We talked about everything under the sun including my plans to start a business with Toria when she comes home from Oz next year. They were full of commonsense advice and when the walk is over, I’m going to have a longer chat with them about the project.
Lorna went back to Milton near Stoke-on-Trent to stay with her mum and I’ll be seeing her back here at around 9.30 am tomorrow.
An uneventful and very pleasant day and my total mileage is now 322.4 miles, which must mean I’ve passed the halfway point. Wahey!

Monday, May 29, 2006

Wetter and Wetter

Breakfast and then off to Far Forest. It was a funny day; I dithered rather more than usual and managed to press a wrong button on my GPS watch so it didn’t display what I needed. That’ll teach me to read the instructions.
All in all it was pretty uneventful after yesterday. I enjoyed the minor roads to Button Bridge and was then plunged into a leap, dodge, leap, dodge nightmare on a very busy B road to Bridgnorth.
I gave up in the end because motorist after motorist ignored my presence and drove past me at sixty and seventy miles an hour while only three feet away from my cringing person.
I tried another B road and gave up on that too; a quick dive down a minor road to the left gave me some respite from dicing with death and then I actually had a stretch of B road that possessed – yes, a pavement.
But that didn’t last long; as the pavement disappeared and the verge looked impossible, I looked at the map, and while I was deciding whether or not to carry on this unequal struggle, a local gentleman asked me if I needed help. He asked where I was going and though I mentioned twice I was walking to Leeds, he gave no sign that he’d heard what I said, which struck me as unusual to say the very least.
Perhaps he thought I was mad and he’d better gloss over my nonsense. Whatever; I followed his excellent instructions and made my way across the fields. And then it rained. It really, really rained and in two minutes my feet were as wet as if I’d been standing in a bath of water for half an hour.
I slipped and skidded down filthy muddy slopes, trying not to fall A over T and finally reached a cycle path beside the railway. Following the tarmac path was a pleasure but not for long. It was going to end up on the ghastly B road in a couple of miles, so I opted to walk all the way to Bridgnorth beside the River Severn.
On a fine day it would have been paradise. As everything was soaked and dripping and I squelched for the next 8 miles across muddy fields and waist high greenery, I suppose paradise was a bit below par. But in spite of the swimming feet and sodden socks, the cold, wet leggings and the drenching showers, the countryside was still breathtakingly beautiful.
The River Severn was brown and oleaginous and the waters swirled around half drowned trees as the weight of water rolled by dangerously swiftly.
A steam train huffed along the single track, first one way then the other and reminded me of all the journeys I made to West Wales when I was a child.
The sun came out and everything steamed till the next torrential downpour; startled ducks dashed quacking into the river as I passed and my trusty stick kept me upright; another wet and muddy derriere was mercifully avoided. I began to talk to my stick in a way that was reminiscent of Shirley Valentine and her Wall. Well, it’s company… It took absolutely ages to reach Bridgnorth and my filthy wet legs were like lead by the time I walked into town.
Having consulted the map, I crossed the river by the old bridge and rang Lorna to arrange a meeting point. Suddenly the black sky opened and the rain came down as if someone had turned on a giant faucet. I dashed into a hotel and while I waited for Lorna and a much-needed change of clothes I had a cup of tea and biscuits.
The lady who served me was deeply unimpressed by my tale of walking to Leeds and told me to go into the lounge where I could sit on a leather Chesterfield which wouldn’t mark, what with me being so wet and all…
Lorna joined and was nearly as wet as me-the downpour had caught her out.
I surreptitiously changed in the Ladies loos, and did another four miles in my walking boots along the side of the A454. It goes to Wolverhampton, which I am not, but when I finished at Worfield I was poised to head north east to Stafford and beyond. Between 20 and 22 miles. I’ll have to use a ruler on the map to be accurate as the watch was a dead loss thanks to my technological stupidity.
Home to Bridget’s and a last lovely meal in excellent company here in Kingsland. Catherine and Charles MacCarthy joined us; what delightful and clever people. And how kind of them to host the soiree last Friday, which by all accounts is regarded as a huge success.
I’m going to miss Bridget, but the good news is that we’re planning a concert in 2007 to raise money for the local hospice and for Hereford Cathedral. So, I’ll just have to come up to Kingsland regularly to check everything’s going ok. No ulterior motive, naturally.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

An unexpected companion

No coughing during the night; Bridget has been giving me cider vinegar and honey in hot water and I think it has done the trick. I’m feeling much better.
Breakfast and then Lorna rearranged the Jag. We needed to accommodate four people in the car today as Hilary and Annabelle were meeting us at the Holly Tree in Bromyard for a day’s walking.
Lorna and I arrived at the Total garage and Hilary and Annabelle followed us to the pub. We sorted out what we wanted to wear and what we needed to carry and set off up a fairly busy B road towards Stanford Bridge. The distance by road was around 11 miles, but we decided after a couple of narrow squeaks with oncoming traffic that we’d be better off taking footpaths than ending up in hospital.
We followed a winding lane with virtually no traffic which enabled us to walk side by side and have a proper chat. The countryside was magnificent; rolling hills with every shade of green imaginable. The sky was largely blue – oh joy, oh rapture – and there was a slight coolness in the light breeze that made walking a real pleasure.
We passed an oast house and speculated on farming past and present; and then found ourselves crossing a cattle grid which had a herd of heifers standing sentinel the on other side. I shooed them away but like yobos hanging around on street corners looking for trouble, they followed us, bellowing what sounded like insults. Annabelle was understandably anxious, but we walked on with a convincing air of insouciance as they barged and shouted behind us, until we reached an old fashioned metal pedestrian gate and walked into the comparative calm of the adjoining field.
The heifers lined up along the fence and jeered at us as we walked down the meadow until they lost interest and looked for something else to amuse them.
We crossed a couple of stiles and slipped and slid up a very muddy slope to a road. Then it was up and up and up a long, very steep hill. The reward was a fantastic panoramic view, although I’m not sure Hilary and Annabelle were quite as enthusiastic about it as I was.
As often happens, when a crucial decision needed to be made someone turned up to help us. A young man with his dog checked his map against ours – and miraculously we were exactly where I thought we were – and, on his advice, we set off downhill along a bridlepath. He did warn us it was muddy, but we didn’t really grasp just how muddy he meant.
I furnished us all with sticks from the dense undergrowth beside the treacherous, steeply descending path and they enabled us to reach the bottom without falling on our backsides and sliding all the way down.
Our shoes were caked in thick, red Herefordshire mud and poor Annabelle’s trousers were mud from the knee down.
The next challenge was a fallen tree across the sharply rising path that led us away from the stream. I scrambled up a bank and shoved my way through God knows what to get to the other side and H and A picked their way through the tree itself in a considerably more lady-like manner.
We toiled along a forest road for much further than my map indicated-that was when I realised that I’d gone wrong yet again. Pathetic.
Our guardian angels were looking out for us however, because with the help of a charming lady in a wheelchair, a group of adults leading a bunch of kids on ponies along the bridleway and a delightful landowner, we got ourselves right and reached the ancient church of Lower Sapey. The church is still consecrated but is empty apart from a large cross. It had a deep and intense peacefulness and because of the history of the village and church during the time of the Black Death, there was a great poignancy and tangible connection with the distant past.
I checked with the house owner next door that we were headed in the right direction and then, accompanied by said house owner’s black and tan Jack Russell, we set off up the steepest hill of the day.
Charlie, the dog, obviously thought that all his Christmases had come at once, and we were his new best friends. We tried to send him home but he was having none of it; it was walkies whether we liked it or whether we didn’t.
Eventually, I caught hold of the little bugger and rang his owner who came with unnecessary apologies to collect him. We waved him goodbye and strolled the last mile into Clifton upon Teme. The pub beckoned and after a swift half of lager, I left Lorna, Hilary and Annabelle nursing their drinks and sore feet as I headed off towards Stanford Bridge.
Alone, I could get into my stride and swing along at just under four miles an hour. And, with a bit of cross country as well as road work, made Stanford Bridge in very short order.
Hilary and Annabelle joined once more for a few miles; Annabelle is only fifteen and she was not only first class company but she walked exceptionally well for a youngster.
Enough was enough eventually, and she retired to the Jag leaving me and Hilary to slog our way up hill to Clows Top. The views in every direction were some of the best I have ever seen and worth the long climb and traffic dodging.
Hilary bowed out at the crossroads and I carried on to Far Forest, three miles further on, where I stopped. I still had my trust stick and found that it was quite helpful for keeping up the pace. And it would make a really good weapon…
We drove back to Bromyard and made our way back to Leominster in our separate cars. Bridget cooked yet another delicious supper, this time of salmon fishcakes and they all disappeared in very short order between the five of us.
Hilary and Annabelle departed for the Youth Hostel they were staying at – it was called the Priory and I said to Hilary that people might very well confuse it with the place people go to in order to get over their drug problems…
And we all said goodnight and went to bed. Only one more day in this idyllic place. Shame. 20 ½ miles.