Day 34 - Chipping Campden to Stratford on Avon
Mum and Dad drove me back to exactly where I’d been picked up from yesterday, ensuring that I’d not missed any distance out. Cake followers will be pleased to know that a chunk of lardy cake was wrapped up for me in foil and plastic to prevent a lardy rucksack. They waved me off enthusiastically in the town centre, near the ancient market place. It’s been lovely to see them.
The clouds were encouragingly grey, and I was hopeful that the hot weather that was forecast would not come to pass. I ran into navigational difficulties early on where the footpath ran rather obscurely through a school’s grounds. On the second attempt, and following the kind efforts of a local lady I found it, but adding an unwanted mile in the process. She warned me that the path was somewhat overgrown. It was a little, but compared to what I’ve encountered further south it was not too problematic.
Today I have been mainly following the Heart of England Way, which is sometimes also doubling up with Monarch’s Way that I’ve encountered before. Heart of England is a 100 mile footpath that runs from Milford in Cannock Chase down to Bourton on the Water in the Cotswolds. What I’ve seen of it today has been pretty well signposted and maintained.
I dropped into very lovely Mickleton for a coffee after about an hour. I was intrigued by a sign describing the battle of Mickleton Tunnel, involving Isambard Kingdom Brunel and 3000 contracters fighting in a tunnel. But leaving the tunnel behind, the sun was burning off the cloud, my bag felt heavy even though I’d left some stuff behind at my parents’ for David to collect, my leg was sore and annoying. It all felt a bit of an effort. The coffee in a welcoming hotel helped, the hotel guest who did a bit of mansplaining about my route and my leg did not.
Then it was a slog down a boring road to cut out some miles. My lovely friend Karen and I started a call, but the signal failed. It’s difficult when this happens. My communications with people on the phone are hugely important. Although I’m happy being on my own, having regular connection with my important people helps me hugely. So the vagaries of the signal can be really frustrating, it rather emphasises my solitariness. But I have strategies. If the road is boring I tend to listen to podcasts or audio books. And nothing is better than Fortunately, so I plugged into Fi and Jane and they made me laugh. The landscape under my trudging feet was changing. The golden stone of the Cotswolds had gone, instead there were solitary red brick farm buildings. And under fierce blue skies I entered Warwickshire. County number four.
I was delighted to leave the road and join the long straight section of the Monarch’s Way that is also named the Greenway. This is another converted railway line - the one that ran from Stratford to Cheltenham and closed down in the 1970s. It’s a flat path shared between walkers, cyclists and horse riders. Although easy walking, the high hedges on either side prevent much interaction with the adjoining countryside, so it’s not very exciting. The interest came from observing the others on the route.
Harris is walking the whole of the Monarch’s Way. He’s given up his job with enough money in the bank to survive for a couple of months. He is walking about 10 miles a day and is wild camping along the way. He decided not to wild camp in the Midlands, as they did a lot of game shooting there and he was worried he’d get shot whilst asleep in his tent. He said ruefully that he couldn’t give up on the challenge now even if he wanted to, he described what he’s doing as ‘pub talk that has got out of hand’.
At Milcote, about half way along the Greenway, as if a mirage, there was a large train carriage acting as a cafe. The staff were extremely friendly and explained how the vehicle was brought in by crane 30 years ago, sited where the old station used to be.
Continuing down the Greenway, the heat was reflecting off the white stone under foot. It reminded me of the strade bianche in Italy where we had a family cycling holiday once. The girls remember it as the worst holiday ever, as it was so hot and so hard to cycle. This was certainly not fun today.
I trudged on, past the odd stream that sadly looked a funny colour and therefore not very inviting. The hay was lying in the meadows ready for baling, and a bird of prey hovered in the sky rather lethargically.
The maize has grown and ripened since the last time I was in fields like these, and I walked past another race course, with the sprinklers looking appealing. But although I noticed them, I was mainly just walking, trying to keep going as it got increasingly hot.
When I saw tables in the shade and another train carriage cafe, I couldn’t have been happier. And then they did ice cream too. This was no luxurious treat, the cold and the sugar felt like essential medicine.
It was then a couple of miles to my hotel in Stratford. It’s quite swanky, far posher than where I’ve mainly been staying. It has elegant gardens and a terrace, with people having delightful afternoon tea and smart lunches in frocks and chinos. I cut quite the dash in my sweaty clothes, red face and rucksack. But the staff could not have been more welcoming. They upgraded me, and sorted out a bespoke takeaway breakfast for tomorrow so that I can get out walking early to avoid the worst of tomorrow’s heat.
After a while in the air conditioning, I had recovered enough to have a wander in Stratford. There is a park at the end of the road with the theatre, the river and the canal on three sides. It was filled with people enjoying the sunshine. Buskers were playing and a rowing regatta in fancy dress was under way. A baby in just a nappy was revelling in covering himself in squelched strawberry whilst his sister stood in the fountain, drenched. Their mother smiled at me as I looked at them with pleasure, and said fondly ‘they’re only little once’.
It’s a touristy place, but I still felt a frisson standing by the house in which Shakespeare lived. The ancient buildings are impressive and evocative, if you look past the Will and Ann theme park vibe. It’s also big on ice creams, Stratford. Many gelaterias. It felt like a double ice cream sort of a day, so I went for kulfi flavour.
An early dinner in a good Greek restaurant. The pleasure of eating on my own is to be able to completely listen to another table. I pick up my phone and write this blog so that they don’t see me paying quite so much attention. The couple adjacent started off conversing very amicably, but it turned into an increasingly frank conversation about their dating life before they met. She was amused, he was increasingly baffled. I’m not sure the evening will end as amicably.
Tomorrow is a big day. I’m going to stay with my friends Philip and Andrew, with our other friends Janet and Paul staying too. But most excitingly, I’m going to see David again, the first time for a month. It will make a very early start and a long slog in the heat worthwhile.
Distance travelled: 13.5 miles
Total ascent: 680 feet
Calories burned: 1700
Local tipple: Mythos lager
Dinner at El Greco - good and huge portions
Trio of dips - hummous, tzatziki and taranasalata
Calamari with salad and chips
Video of the day
New song of the day
Goat Girl - Once again
Garage rock with a touch of psyche is how the review refers to this. Not really sure what this means. But I like the layers of vocal harmonies, and the free flowing rhythms of the instrumental sections.
Number of miles walked so far: 397