Monday, 14 September 2015

Whittlesey to March

I was quite excited when I booked the Dog and the Doublet. I wanted to stay in the middle of nowhere in fens. Last night I was too tired to take it in, but this is the view looking east from the front of the pub.

If you look in the other direction you can see Whittlesey – only a mile and half away – but this morning, I’m looking this way.

Whittlesey, when we reached it,  was lovely too with it’s rivers and willow trees.

And its Straw Bear which they like to parade around the town once a year and then burn for charity!

A friendly woman working at the level crossing let me use her level-crossing-hut-toilet. I asked her if it was a lonely job, sitting there on her own all day, watching a screen to see when the next train was coming, going out and closing the gates, making sure nobody collided and died. She said she didn’t mind it.  I envied her a little bit. Thought maybe it would be a good job for a writer, with all that time to let your imagination roam. I suppose if you let it roam too far you’d be in danger of missing the signals and creating mayhem. I asked Johnny if he’d like it, and he said no, he’d get itchy feet.

After that we turned off the road onto the first of a number of badly maintained paths. This one was full of nettles, thistles and elder.

But we made these two friends at the end of it, Palamino and Sally the dapple grey. (Johnny named her Sally inadvertently).

We reached the Twenty Foot River (I love the utilitarian names of some of these Fen rivers.)

Walking along the bank was kind of what I’d been waiting for – all the way from the Humber, and I loved it. Watching cars in the landscape far away, moving in straight lines, but with no sound. Being higher, here on a six foot bank, than everything else you can see apart from trees and manmade objects. The quiet. Yesterday we could hear the A1 as a constant backdrop. Here the traffic noise was erratic – a distant engine, a light aircraft flying over, accentuating the silence in between in the same way that the farmhouses, trees, wind turbines, accentuated the flatness. 

7 miles in we stopped at the pub in Turves for a pint. We met a cyclist there who was keen to chat and  tell us of his travels. The first place he mentioned was Hebden Bridge, where he stayed in the summer - he camped at the New Delight. He came from Peterborough, so it wasn’t quite the same as meeting someone from Hebden, yet again, in a remote place miles from home, but nearly!

Then we walked on to Quakers Drove.

This is a long path straight across farmland. All the paths we walked today are dead straight – our route on the map geometric, sharp, angular. The day was warm by now. The road turned into a track, then a grassy track, then disappeared altogther for a while into a growth of nettles and thistles before returning as a field edge.

Johnny didn’t like this bit at all. First he got annoyed by all the wind turbines he could see. Then he got annoyed by me for not wanting to have an argument about wind turbines. For while he marched on ahead. When I caught up with him and asked if he was OK he said the electricity lines were messing with his magnetic fields. I looked up, and sure enough, we were walking under an electricity line.

We set off again, him in front, me wondering if I could tell what my magnetic fields were doing and how I would know if they were upset.

I actually quite liked walking along that Quakers Drove. The land was completely flat, not even a vague slope in sight, so I felt like I was walking along the bottom of something, and I felt very small. I could imagine being watched from above, and how slow my progress would seem. Like a beetle crossing a huge table, or a turtle in the desert. I was hot, and something about the endlessness, the monotony, reminded me of days when I was a child and it seemed like things could go on and on and the end wasn’t even something that was an issue, it was more about the state of being. 

A haystack at the end of the path was doing a Dog in the D – existing forever on the horizon and never getting closer. I imagined it as a house and someone in it watching our approach, what they might be thinking.

When we reached it Johnny said it was the most unremittingly boring path he’d ever been on and he was never in his life going to go walking in the Fens again.

Now we were back on the banks the Nene – the old route of the river that winds rather than being channelled into a straight line. Nobody had walked the path for a long time and we were wading through grass, nettles and hogweed.

This is obviously the best way to travel in these parts.

Then we reached our B&B and our en-suite had a bath, which was a wonder and a delight..

12.5 miles

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Stamford to Whittlesey

The BBC had been threatening us with rain yesterday, but today they’d decided to relent a bit, and turned it off around 8am, just as we were having breakfast.

Judy, our landlady, saw us off from Stamford with a gift of homemade flapjack, and we headed into Stamford.

Stamford is a pretty town, but it's also very posh, which kind of put me off it a bit.

Here’s someone’s gateway.

Here’s Ermine Street going across his golf course.

Here are his paddocks.

His avenue.

His grazing land

His cropped field

His ploughed field.

His next door neighbour.

He is the Marquess of Carabas (sorry – Exeter) and the estate is that of Burghley House, a huge Elizabethan mansion, and I am Puss in Boots. I wish.

I don’t really get on with posh. Johnny does. He liked Stamford and he liked looking around the expensive antique shops in Oakham. He likes posh hotels and expensive country pubs but they make me uncomfortable, a bit stifled. I don’t really know why, perhaps I don’t want to damage things. But actually, I don’t feel like I belong, like I’m trespassing. I don’t feel entitled.

The well kept fields  and wooded edges made for very pleasant walking however.

And we saw these in a barn.

After a couple of hours we reached Sacrewell Farm shop where we stopped for coffee and learned that Jeremy Corbyn was the new labour leader. I thought about that day three months ago when  Poppy and I were walking through the Yorkshire Wolds having just learned that the tories had got in. 

We girded our loins and continued. Following a difficult dash across the A47 we reached the River Nene, which was to be our companion for the rest of day. 

We waked through the pretty hamlet of Sutton and then then on to Wansford Station on the Nene Valley Railway.  

This weekend was a Steam Gala, and the engines were running regularly along the tracks, tooting into the air. A few times today we had to cross the railway line, and each time we found an old man in a hat with a timetable and camera, looking excitedly into the distance.

The path wound between the railway and the river across the flood plain and it was idyllic.

But Johnny’s feet were hurting, and we still had a long way to go.

Ferry Meadows Country Park was busy with children and elderly couples having train rides.

Johnny found four big elm trees (smooth-leaved in case you were wondering) and was delighted (I've just had to add this in as I'd forgotten and he was upset that I'd missed them out. His photo).

We had a drink at the visitors centre. We’d done 14 miles and it was telling on us. We weren’t sure if we were up it.

I said, let’s march for an hour and see how we feel.

So we did. Past statues, people fishing, swans, between river and steam trains, right into the heart of Peterborough without for one minute feeling like we weren’t in the countryside.

Then suddenly we were in the middle of the city and there were loads of people.

A cast iron bridge, believed to be the last on a major British Rail high speed route.

And a lot of swans.

There were still five miles to go. We had to decide - walk or get a taxi.

Johnny was feeling OK, I was tired but didn’t want to be defeated.

So we ate Judy’s flapjack, and off we went.

Walking for five miles in a dead straight line is a strange thing. Two were fine.  

By two and a half it seemed like it would never end. Our destination came into sight. A white pub called Dog in a Doublet. It looked quite near. Half a mile later it looked the same. We tried walking without looking up for what seemed like a long time, then looking up hoping it would be nearer – but it never was.

My legs were saying, what the hell are you doing. Stop walking. Now. But the Dog in the Doubet was still far away.

Eventually we reached the sluice...

...and finally the pub where they thought we were completely mad. I had a shower then a very expensive steak. I had never felt so tired.

23 miles.