Kathryn Harries - Soprano

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Fighting on

Poor old chest had me coughing all night. What a pain.
A surprise delivery of a large box of crisps of all flavours and made by Tyrells, a local and very highly regarded company.
I met Leonard and June Chase at the concert last night and Leonard told me about his son William, of whom he was justifiably very proud. William was a potato farmer who realised pretty swiftly that however hard he worked, there was no livelihood to be made in farming the old fashioned way. So he took himself off to America and lived with the Amish in Pennsylvania for a year. After which he returned to Herefordshire and developed Tyrells Crisps which is now a multi-million pound business. He grows the potatoes, turns them into the most delicious crisps I’ve ever tasted, on site, and then sells them all over the world. How’s that for drive, focus and daring. Bloody marvellous. Perhaps he’d like to run the country…

No surprise for guessing that as I walked out of the house the rain started to fall heavily from a leaden sky.
We drove to Kivernoll and I set off along the B road equipped with my fluorescent tabard and plaid umbrella. I was determined that whoever ran me down had a good look at me first.
No problem with the traffic – what a relief – and then minor roads nearly all the way to the outskirts of Hereford.
I walked into the city at least twice as fast as the traffic which was backed up for the best part of a mile. Hereford was buzzing – full of people braving the rain to do their shopping – and the city centre was virtually at a standstill as far as the traffic was concerned. This is worth noting as it had an impact on the following few hours.
I’d had several long phone conversations to while away the miles and Hereford itself was a joy to walk through. I didn’t find a branch of Cheltenham and Gloucester Building Society, so have still not paid off my mortgage. Bummer.
So out of Hereford I marched – along pavements and up a very long, steep hill. I’d heard nothing from Lorna since 10.15 and it was now 1.00 pm. I’d asked her to check out the A465 as I had a horrible suspicion that there would be no pavement to walk on safely. Unfortunately, by the time I reached the said A 465, Lorna hadn’t been able to check it out and was still stuck in town. I was not sure what to do for the best because the road was not pleasant to walk along even when there was a pavement – seriously fast traffic and nowhere to hide.
But not knowing what lay ahead I pressed on until it became clear that walking any further would be suicidal. So, having spotted a bridleway, I phoned Lorna who was still stuck in traffic in Hereford, and said I was going off road to cut off a corner off two dangerous roads.
The path started off reasonably well, albeit grassy and therefore wet – very wet it truth be told – but I resigned myself to another soaking and followed the clearly marked byway without difficulty.
The problems arose once I turned onto what must have been a four wheel drive path; laughingly known as a ‘green lane’: it was unbelievably muddy and rutted and, with pathetic inevitability, I lost my footing, staggered briefly and fell over into deep, slick, glutinous mud and thereafter looked like Big Foot staggering into town.
I was filthy; wet through, caked with enough mud to do justice to Glastonbury, and I spent two electric minutes swearing very loudly indeed into thin air. As Toria says, ‘you gotta laugh’. HA bloody HA.
Then I carried on. And on. Eventually I reached a road and had a funny five minutes watching the reaction of a group of horses who found my umbrella astonishingly exciting. A cheerful conversation with the Cribbins’s, which lightened my mood considerably.
And then it was onto the A465 and head on into fast traffic in the pouring rain. To be absolutely honest, I didn’t give a shit by this time.
After a couple of miles, however, I took to minor roads in an act of pure self-preservation. Lorna showed up – four and a quarter hours since I’d last seen her – and I changed out of my sodden clothes into dry ones. A passing motorist got more than he bargained for when he drove past me as I struggled into my clean clothes. I hope he had a penchant for rugby playing thighs with a touch of cellulite – otherwise he must just have suffered extreme shock.
Lorna had found a garden centre which had some super hanging baskets; and we wanted to give Bridget Eastaugh, our remarkable hostess, a present to express our gratitude for her amazing hospitality.
So as I set off, dry, clean and comfortable – and munching my delicious Tyrells crisps – Lorna drove to the said garden centre to buy a really lovely basket for Bridget.
It stopped raining. Truly. It was DRY. The sun came out, steam rose from the tarmac as I tramped up and down hill after hill, and the air became muggy and stifling. I started to get wet inside my clean Musto jacket and had to wrap it round my waist to cool off. So bizarre.
For some weird reason, I didn’t feel the need to stop for food or rest and was very happy to keep walking.
I stopped for five minutes to watch two tiny ponies wrestling with each other; there were no holds barred and they reared up and boxed before shouldering each other with all their strength. One caught hold of the other’s hock in his teeth and they spiralled round in circles until they separated. Two other tiny ponies grazed feet away from this titanic struggle without even raising their heads. It was very entertaining and I suspect they were chaps; male horses, whether they are gelded or not, will constantly juggle for top position in the herd. Mares, on the other hand, have one sorting out and then stick to the same pecking order indefinitely. Mmmm.
Shortly after, I passed a beautifully kept equestrian centre which had a Welsh dragon on a tall pole at the entrance and the Welsh flag was flying proudly above it. The fields were beautifully kept and the show jumps and cross country fences all looked in excellent repair. It made me feel quite nostalgic; perhaps the next fund raiser should be on horseback. Then I’d have blisters on my bum rather than my feet!
I’d met a charming couple painting their fence a really nice shade of green a mile or so earlier and I’d made them laugh by telling them I was walking to Leeds. It never fails.
Swinging along cheerfully, I greeted a young man coming down the hill towards me with his adolescent dog and not unreasonably, given we were the only two people around, expected to receive an equally friendly greeting. Did he say a word? Did he hell. So I shouted ‘manners’ as I marched up the hill away from him and was seriously annoyed by his deliberate rudeness. Too much inbreeding, I expect. And poor dog, having such a boor for an owner.
I decided against going off road as I was becoming quite attached to dry feet. So, down to the main road and I strode womanfully into oncoming traffic until I reached Bromyard.
As I gathered speed down hill – passing a very particular wooden sculpture with sheep and apples on it – there was a toot on a car horn. My friend Hilary and her daughter Annabelle, who were joining me for the next day’s walking, were driving past; they were in urgent search of a loo and I was opposite a garage with ‘facilities.’ The coincidence was extraordinary – I could have turned off earlier into town, for example – but, as often happens, the unlikely came to pass.
A quick chat and then I walked through Bromyard to the Holly Tree pub where I met Lorna.
Then back to Bridget’s and a delicious and sociable supper with Bridget, Jill, Lorna, Hilary, Annabelle, me, Jackie and Bryan . And then, bed. Oh joy. 23 miles.

Friday, May 26, 2006

A feast fit for Kingsland

Today was a day of rest. I decided last night that I’d have a whole day off to catch up with this diary and to get over the chest infection.
I spent the morning writing while the sun shone blissfully and a touch ironically outdoors. I wasn’t walking so the rain kept away…
Nothing much to report until the evening when we had a soiree at the home of Catherine and Charles MacCarthy in the village.
Jackie, Bridget and several other ladies had prepared a splendid meal for after the concert, which was to take place in the drawing room of yet another fabulous home.
The piano was tuned, the seats were arranged in rows and at 7.45 Jill P, Gill Ford, Garry Magee, Lorna and I, together with the charming and very entertaining Dean of Hereford, began our performance.
The audience of forty was impressively attentive and everyone performed really well. Jill excelled herself in her readings, Garry sang like a god, Gill saved the audience from another of my Les Dawson impersonations, Father Michael was super in both his songs and readings, and I sang quite well considering the state of my lungs.
And then we had supper. Fantastic hardly describes the feast that had been prepared and we all had the chance to chat with our audience and enjoy another perfect evening in perfect Kingsland. If I didn’t live in the Surrey Hills I’d move here. Or to Uley. They both have a magical quality about them which I’ve not experienced anywhere else.
Oh dear, can I hear those men in white again…

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Best. Day. Ever.

Goodbye Llandaff, Angela, Gareth, Linda and dear Jamie who gave up his room for me. What a star. As my friend Pam says about my son, Will, I’ll have to just jump in the freezer and wait for him… That, of course, will completely freak the poor fellow out. Sorry.
Lorna and I emptied the Jag and stuffed everything back in as well as we could – at least well enough that she could see out of the rear window. Our belongings seem to be expanding and I’m not sure why.
We drove back to Abergavenny in brilliant sunshine. I couldn’t believe how blue the sky was and what a difference it immediately made to both our outlooks.
I took my rucksack and wore my old grey waterproof into Abergavenny and boiled in the heat. There seems to be no half-way house at the moment as far as the weather is concerned.
Lorna went on ahead into town and bought me an ordnance survey map of the area. I had a suspicion I’d need to cut onto minor roads and in very short order I was proved right.
The A465 had a pavement but was very noisy and tiring. And what’s the point of walking through some of the most beautiful countryside in the UK on a smelly, noisy main road? So I quickly branched off into the glorious Monmouthshire and Herefordshire lanes and had one of the nicest day’s walking I’ve ever had. Ever.
I hardly saw a car; the lanes were often little more than dirt tracks and the rolling hills and craggy outcrops dipped and swooped away into the purple, hazy distance. The sun shone, the birds warbled and chattered in their droves, the sun beat on my back and every hill revealed another priceless view. I started the day feeling very slow and under the weather because of this annoying chest infection. So I followed my body’s command and settled for a gentle, consistent speed that allowed all the muscles to warm up gradually.
I sweated the infection out as the day went on and gradually regained my normal energy level and, after an excellent lunch provided by Lorna, felt almost back to what passes for normal.
What a lot of hills. I couldn’t believe how many seriously steep ones there are in this neck of the woods. Up and down I went, taking in one magnificent vista after another. Everything was perfect on both the large and small scale. The grandeur of the panoramic scenery was way beyond spectacular; but in each hedgerow there were splashes of wild flowers; around every corner lay another treat for the eye; and the scent of the air was clean and clear and bore traces of coconut from the gorse and the jasmine of wisteria.
We lunched in a lay-by on a ridge which had long, long views on each side. It was breathtaking: I don’t have the words to describe the deep sense of peace and rightness I felt as I sat there in the open air simply being part of the glory all around me.
We arranged to meet at Grosmont some five miles further on and Lorna had a cup of tea and chocolate digestives ready in a trice when I arrived.
Onwards to Kintchurch and while I was wondering whether I’d made yet another mistake, I spotted the spire of an ancient church tucked into a copse of densely green trees. Phew! I was in the right place.
That didn’t last for much longer because I disbelieved my map and went past the church instead of taking a tiny lane to my left. A helpful young lady put me straight and after a short backtrack I set off up a very long, steep hill.
Lorna and I had agreed to meet at a place that sounded like a cross between a sneeze and a cough. But when I reached the junction there was no sign of her. So I gave her a quick call on the mobile and said, horror of horrors, that I was setting off cross-country because it was so much more direct.
Well, it would have been if I hadn’t wandered aimlessly round a large, muddy field looking for a gate that was only fifty yards from the point at which I’d entered.
After that, however, I was really quite good and I found my way to Kilpeck without mishap and met Lorna beside another pretty Herefordshire church. It really is my favourite county, and I constantly have the sensation that I’m surrounded by the shades of all the thousands of people who’ve walked these hills before me. It has an ancient feel to it like Wiltshire, but is less wild and intimidating. In this county of Herefordshire, I’m very aware of the bending of Time and feel past and present exist simultaneously. Cue the men in white coats again.
I decided to do another few miles and ended up in Kivernoll. The light was beginning to dim and the next mile or so was on a very busy B road that had no pavements and nowhere much to hide. So, with discretion and valour uppermost in my mind, I called it a day and Lorna and I headed for our next temporary home.
Kingsland is aptly named; it is the land that time forgot and a piece of paradise as far as I’m concerned. Jill P. and I stayed there five years ago on the long walk and had a really special time with a group of truly special and marvellous people.
We stopped at the rambling home of Jackie and Bryan Markham in the centre of Kingsland and Jackie took us up the road to the home of Bridget Eastaugh who was looking after us for the next four days. Bridget is the widow of Bishop Eastaugh of Hereford and one of the most capable and kind people on the planet.
By the time she and her newly married daughter, Katie, arrived home, Lorna and I were well ensconced and ready to go up to the Markhams for supper.
A great meal in great company and if I don’t stop stuffing all this wonderful food into my face I am going to explode. Oh dear.
Back to Bridget’s and bed. This is what it seems to boil down to; the nitty gritty of walking is very basic. One operates at human being speed, one’s surrounded by natural things, the loo becomes an overriding issue at least half a dozen times a day, and bath, food and bed take on enormous importance. It’s all very therapeutic and fulfilling. Goodnight. And by the way, I walked 22 miles today.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

A stroll along the waterway

Lorna arrived after a long and dreary hold up on the A48. There’d been a horrible accident involving a National Express Coach and five cars. A dreadful way to start the day.
And then we were off; back to Bassaleg and on towards Abergavenny.
The day started wet and stayed wet. But as the wind had dropped I was able to use my big, plaid umbrella for the first time. I bought it for 10 euros at least 10 years ago in Montpelier after being caught in a rainstorm of tropical proportions. I got it from Monoprix and naturally, it never rained again.
Getting out of Newport was as big a challenge as going through Newport but, thanks to a friendly florist, I found the Brecon and Monmouth Canal and embarked on a really delightful section of the day’s walk.
It was lovely strolling – well, sort of strolling – beside the peaceful waterway. Goodness knows what size boats ever used the canal because the bridges and weirs, as well as the extreme narrowness of the canal itself, could never accommodated a normal sized canal boat or barge.
I passed the time of day with the handful of people I met but, for the most part, I had all sorts of birds for company and masses to look at on either side of the canal. Bill Oddie would have been in his element because the waterfowl were plentiful and varied. Ducklings and goslings; baby coots and moorhens; prehistoric looking herons, which flapped languidly away at my approach, turned the walk into a glorious nature ramble. It was brilliant, but wet. Wet underfoot and wet from above. The umbrella was a godsend for my upper body but no good below the knee. So, as usual, I spent the larger part of the afternoon with soaking shoes and socks pondering time and again the seriousness of this terrible drought we seem to be having. Yeah, yeah, I know it’s due to the two dry years we’ve had, but don’t tell me that a large part of the problem isn’t to do with the pathetic way the water companies manage their pipes and reservoirs. And while we’re on the subject, does anyone else remember that way back in the 1960s there was talk of a National Water Grid. What ever happened to that? Ok, rant over.
Canals do meander, so at about 5.45pm I followed a footpath and regained the road. Only to discover that I was still five miles from Abergavenny. The rain was pouring down but I refused to stop so far short of my goal.
I walked along the pavement for at least twenty yards and then it disappeared. It was me, the traffic, the pouring rain and the very wet grass verge. What fun.
I walked on the road when I could but had to keep leaping onto the grass to avoid being mown down. I was wearing my very fetching white baseball cap and failed to spot a triangular road sign until it was too late. I hit the top of my head so hard that I nearly passed out momentarily and I must have been quite a sight as I reeled gently about on the sodden verge trying not to fall into the path of the gigantic lorries that passed every ten seconds.
That really hurt and I didn’t know whether to swear or cry – so I shouted rude words very loudly for several seconds and then carried on.
Lorna shadowed me for the next hour and I made it to within a mile of Abergavenny. I dripped my way into the passenger seat and nearly fell asleep several times on the way to Cardiff. I walked 26 miles today which was very pleasing. We had a delicious Indian take-away and I went to bed quite early as the wine with dinner made me even sleepier. You know you’re getting old when you can’t keep your eyes open after 10pm!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Bloody government

No concert today; it was cancelled last week because there was no support. Also, astonishingly, not much interest from the press. What a missed opportunity for raising money. Which is WHY I’M DOING THIS WALK!!
I woke up this morning with a bad cold and the beginnings of a chest infection. Too many soakings and too many hours in wet shoes and socks.
I spent the morning in my night clothes tapping away at the computer and catching up on e-mails. I had a horrible suspicion that quite a lot had ended up in my junk mail and been ruthlessly deleted…whoops.
Linda gave me some lunch – and then took me back to the Millennium Centre for 2pm. Lorna arrived clutching all my belongings for walking and, in brilliant sunshine, I waved WNO goodbye – this time there was no one to see me off apart from Linda and Lorna – and I started the next leg of the walk. Pun not intended.
Linda said later that it gave her a very strange feeling to see me striding off; she knew intellectually that I walked here, there and everywhere but seeing me simply walk out of Cardiff with the intention of reaching Leeds brought it home to her in an entirely unexpected way.
I retraced yesterday’s footsteps towards St Mellons and branched off northwards to cut above Newport. Leaving Cardiff city centre and dodging ambling shoppers was really bizarre. It seemed odd to be walking through them with this strange goal and I almost felt invisible.
It was a bit like being a time traveller who was passing quietly by in a parallel dimension. This is the point where the men in white coats leap out and drag me away!
It was showery but not unpleasant and I had some really nice walking along country lanes and some cheerful phone calls from friends that helped the miles speed by.
There came a point where I had the option of walking a rather long way round to the village for which I was aiming or cutting straight across country. You may well groan. I took the ‘direct’ route and within a mile was more than a little confused.
As I ploughed up a narrow bridleway trying to avoid ankle deep ruts, I berated myself for my idiocy. Never mind, it was still sunny and I knew I’d get somewhere eventually.
Which I did. I arrived at a farm in the middle of the glorious Welsh countryside. I had to climb a few strategically placed obstacles to get to the front door and when the farmer answered my knock at the door, I could in all honesty exclaim, ‘I am so sorry to trouble you – I am the world’s worst map reader. Could you please tell me where I am on my map!’ What a plonker!
He was wonderfully helpful and barely raised an eyebrow when, in response to his question as to where I was headed, I replied ‘Leeds.’
We had a chat about this government’s appalling attitude to farmers and farming – total agreement on that issue. What good is it living in a country that is not self-sufficient for food? We’ve got the land and expertise (I’ve been walking through it for years) so why drive farmers into ruin country-wide? Bloody government.
It turned out to my amazement that I was where I thought I was. He gave me very clear instructions which I followed to the letter and I ended up in Bassaleg at almost the exact same time as Lorna. That was a very impressive piece of Nannying! 11.6 miles.
Back to Llandaff, yet another lovely supper in great company and some packing before bed. I was quite tired this evening because of the cold which has now landed with a thump on my chest. Thanks to my doctor I have antibiotics with me and I started a course tonight. This is an all too familiar scenario and if I neglect the infection now I’ll be really ill in a couple of days. BORING.

Monday, May 22, 2006

A weirdly wonderful day

I was ready for the last few miles into Cardiff which would bring the first leg of the Opera Walk to a close. So off we went, back to Tredegar Country House Park, and I set off down the old road to Cardiff via St Mellons and the longest section of road works known to Welsh motorist.
It was quite funny, really, doing this stretch on foot and caused more than a few raised eyebrows from the workmen I encountered.
I had to dive into some convenient bushes – notice the pun – because when nature calls on a long walk, you certainly have to listen pretty sharply. There were no proper facilities so it was al fresco once more.
Onwards and the weather veered between wet and blustery and really sunny and warm. Hot in fact, which necessitated a lot of taking off and putting on of outer clothing.
Lorna and I met a couple of times but I basically wanted to get to the Millennium Centre as fast as possible so I could get ready for the evening concert which was being managed by WNO.
Jane Jones gave me and the Opera Walk a terrific mention on her show and played a fanfare to welcome me to the capital city of the Land of my fathers; and I am Welsh by blood and certainly by temperament. Ask my kids.
That was the only fanfare I got, I’m sad to say. When I reached the Millennium Centre I was met by – wait for it – three people from WNO.
No one else could be arsed to come out during their lunch break and welcome me. I had asked Jill and Linda to join the throng… and I’m glad I did – it made five people and me! Not to worry; the three people who did meet me had done all the work for the concert and I was delighted to see them. Particularly Wendy Franklin who is an absolute diamond without whom WNO would sink slowly into the Bay…
It’s a very funny thing, but whenever my ego threatens to surface it gets well and truly bashed on its head. So my disappointment at being reminded how thoroughly insignificant I am lasted – ooh, all of two minutes and after a quick photo (on a mobile phone) I went back with Linda to Angela and Gareth’s.
You’ve gotta laugh really. Life is never quite what you expect, is it?
Linda had very kindly booked an appointment with Angela and Gareth’s osteopath as I wanted to be sure that the twinge I was feeling in my left hip was muscular and not something that needed manipulating back into position.
I saw Mari Evans and she pummelled me brilliantly back into shape; she must make fantastic bread and I guarantee that, as a keen golfer, she can hit the ball a hell of a long way. I felt miles better when I’d had my treatment and she reminded me that I must have baths, not showers at the end of a long day’s walking and that I MUST do my stretches before and after. Lesson duly learned.

The evening concert was fantastic; Wendy had done us proud and members of the chorus, orchestra and company sang and played brilliantly. The lack of reception at lunchtime was forgotten because of the quality of performance and the support and goodwill of the unexpectedly large audience.
Donald Maxwell presented in his truly inimitable and articulately funny way; and with his daughter Ailsa editing every single word and giving him a running crit, he should be quite good one day!
Suzanne Murphy sang as wonderfully as ever, as did Linda and Gwyn Hughs Evans. Anthony Negus played the piano for me and it took me back 23 years to my early days with WNO, when he recommended that I cover Kundry in Parsifal for Sir Reginald Goodall. That recommendation took me to the Metropolitan Opera three years later and gave my singing of Wagner a greater depth and understanding than I ever would have achieved otherwise.
We went out for supper at an Italian restaurant to round off a weirdly wonderful day and then it was back home to bed.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Alone once more

Diana, Will and Sharon went home today and I knew from the moment I got up that it was going to be a very strange sensation walking alone once more.
It was raining – oh no! Will and I spent the morning working on my website and he tried and very nearly succeeded in showing me how to operate the Blog site. He’s very patient.
We packed, loaded up the Jag and then Lorna and I drove away towards Wales, leaving all our chums behind. I felt quite bereft.
We parked in the same lay-by and I backtracked in my boring way to make sure I didn’t miss a footstep. And then onwards in the rain; the very, very heavy rain. I had no time to feel bereft – I just felt WET.
There’s not a huge amount to say about the day’s walking other than it rained solidly for three hours and I had the great, good fortune to be on pavements. Well, apart from one impossible and impassable bit of the A48. I cut across a very smart golf course and amused a series of golfers who found the sight of me in my sodden clothes, fluorescent tabard and white baseball cap hysterically funny. And you have to admit it, they had a point.
I negotiated the golf course without actually getting lost – I must be improving – and met Lorna for lunch just as her husband drew up in his very smart Jaguar Sports Car. I’m becoming rather taken with these quality cars – I wonder if they’d let me have one to drive around for free just so I could advertise them? Probably not. Oh well, a girl can dream…
The sun came out, I had chats on the mobile with several of my friends and then it was time to stop for tea at the Hilton Hotel outside Newport. Heaven; hot tea, delicious cakes and a proper loo. One’s needs are really very simple.
Onwards and within a quarter of a mile, down came the rain – and it belted down for ten soaking minutes before the sun shot out again and left me steaming like a tropical water feature.
I marched through Newport and, it will come as no surprise to anyone who has ever been there, I managed to go astray. My guardian angels must have been working overtime as I asked a charming gentleman and his family a) where I was and b) where should I go. Between them, they put me straight and I fair galloped out of town, ending up at Tredegar Country House Park.
Lorna drove me to Llandaff – by possibly the most circuitous route known to man or beast! In our endeavours to avoid the thousands of football fans exiting the city, we ended up doing a comprehensive tour of the Cardiff suburbs.
Not to worry; I arrived at the home of Gareth Roberts and Angela Livingstone in time for a marvellous supper, after an equally marvellous giant whisky and marvellously hot bath. Bliss. The company was spectacularly good – John Fisher, the new director of WNO and long time friend of Linda Ormiston who was there in all her glory and enthusiasm: I met Patricia Mcmahon, who was a delight and I was seated by Angela and Gareth’s lovely son, Jamie. I had a wonderful end to the day. Jamie gave up his bed for me, bless him, and I shall be eternally grateful. Some girl is going to be very lucky in due course.
Lorna and her husband spent the night at the Newport Hilton as a treat to themselves and we were all poised to enter Cardiff itself with a flourish.