Kathryn Harries - Soprano

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

A moralled tale...

Sad farewells to Standlake and the Websters. We packed up everything yet again and had to empty the Jag before we could cram all our belongings inside.
Then off to the Kennet and Avon Canal to start a day of canal walking. Oh, the pleasure of walking beside a canal compared with the ducking and diving we endured all day yesterday.
Throughout the day we had a great time enjoying varied scenery to the left of us and the calm, steady meandering of the canal to the right of us.
Cattle, sheep and horses dotted the pastures and ducks, coots, Canada geese and swans sailed or scuttled on the brown, sliding waters.
We saw lots of young birds trailing in the wakes of their anxious mothers and every so often, a train whizzed past on the track that parallels the canal and the A4.
When we started at around 10.30am, we had a chat with the gentleman who ran the pub beside the canal at Midgeham. It turned out he’d studied singing at the Guildhall at the same time as Bryn Terfel. Unaccountably he disappeared before he could give us a donation – ah well, you can’t win ‘em all.
We stopped in Newbury to have a cup of tea with Lorna in a car park; and she pointed us in the direction of the nearest facilities. The issue of ‘personal relief’ plays an important part in long walks. I’ve ‘gone’ all over Britain and this walk is no different in that department from all the others. This time we were lucky and could use a proper loo rather than struggling behind a hedge in the pouring rain.
Speaking of rain; what happened to the drought? From Newbury onwards it rained steadily and very wetly.
We stopped for lunch further along the canal and in the time-honoured tradition beloved of all British campers, sat in the rain eating our salads and watching the world go by.
Two ducks provided entertainment; every time a car approached, they dashed into the middle of the lane and stopped dead. Every vehicle had to come to a standstill, at which point, the ducks strolled with a leisurely waddle to the other side. It happened at least six times, so was apparently their way of brightening up a dull, damp day.
We walked into Hungerford rather wet and bedraggled and joined Lorna for a really hot, fresh cup of tea and cakes at a handily placed tea room. What a pretty place Hungerford is and it is a terrible shame that it will always be remembered as the sleepy town where Michael Ryan went on a murderous spree, which ended in the deaths of many innocents.
As we left the tearoom and regained the canal, Diana was surrounded by at least forty tiny ducklings; they dashed around her, skittering between her feet with absolute confidence; a very funny and endearing sight.
Then the rain came down in earnest. We passed a very handsome young fisherman who had caught the biggest river fish I’ve ever seen. I had to take a photo – of the fish, of course!
Finally, we ended up on the A4 in pouring rain. The sky was dark and lowering and water was falling out of the clouds in waves. We were lucky enough to have a pavement for a couple of miles but then it disappeared. Suddenly, we were faced with what had once been a pathway and was now a neglected grass verge covered in – yet again – nettles, brambles, sopping wet cow parsley and holes and ruts inviting a broken ankle at the very least. Why is everything designed for the motorist? Why can’t councils keep roadside pathways in decent repair?
Well, by the time we stopped three miles further on, we were soaked to the skin from the rain and the splashing from cars and lorries driving through the standing water on the road. Not their fault, I hasten to add; the road was awash with water. It certainly is a terrible drought…
Over and over again I have discovered that Britain is now almost entirely geared towards the car. Bugger the pedestrian, horse rider or cyclist.
Lorna picked us up in a lay-by 7 miles short of Marlborough. And driving along the A4 proved to me that it would be suicidally dangerous to walk along. We resolved to look at the map and find an alternative.
We stayed at Bella Mathieu’s cottage in Wootten Rivers, south of Marlborough. Bella is the most photographed face ever for Vogue, Harpers etc and she is a great chum of Jill P’s. It’s a beautiful cottage but slightly damp and without heating. This made drying all our sodden clothes something of a challenge.
When we’d unloaded the car and settled in, I took my right sock off with some trepidation. Revealed in all its gory ghastliness was a bright and bloody mess of titanic proportions. It wasn’t actually as ghastly as it looked, thank God; the Second Skin had leaked everywhere under the pressure of a day’s walking and my blister had bled into the general mess.
It cleaned up reasonably well and more Second Skin knocked the pain on the head. I also, rather mistakenly, had a generous swallow of neat gin which unsettled my stomach.
Jill cooked us a delicious roast lamb dinner and I toddled up to bed around ten leaving them to watch the gloomy news and even gloomier weather forecast. Lorna repaired to the annexe for the night and when Jill and Diana came upstairs an hour later, they found me fast asleep on the bathroom floor…snoring very loudly.
I’ve no recollection of how I got there; it seems I sleep walked from the bedroom to the bathroom, did what I had to do, and then simply continued sleeping on the floor.
Diana, who has seen me do this from time to time over the last 44 years, put her hand on my shoulder to wake me up and I apparently said I was fine but busy sorting out all those Chinese…
The moral of this tale is, don’t drink neat gin on an empty stomach when you’ve walked 21 miles in pouring rain.

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