Day 35 - Stratford on Avon to Sedgemere
I started early this morning to try to beat the worst of the heat. The hotel put together a fantastically elaborate breakfast, all carefully wrapped so that it would be carried safely in my rucksack. What a lovely place.
Although early mornings are not really my thing, there is something special about walking when most people are still in bed. And particularly when walking by water, as I was for much of the morning. The light is different, the wildlife are out and about, and there’s a quality in the silence that makes it memorable. The birds were relishing the day, with ducks and ducklings pottering about, swans with their cygnets hissing at me, moorhens with their little feet seemingly running along the surface of water trying to get a purchase as they urgently tried to take off. And of course seagulls, there has not yet been a place without them.
Human life was more sparse. The odd solitary jogger, a couple of cyclists. One took a picture of my QR code as he went past. There were no boats on the move, they all had curtains drawn and quiet. I picked up my poles so that their thwack on the ground didn’t disturb anyone.
The Stratford on Avon canal is a particularly lovely waterway. It was rescued in the 1960s after being allowed to fall into disrepair, and is clearly carefully maintained now. I liked the fact that the volunteers who care for parts of it are credited by name, thanks to Linda and Ken for looking after this lockside garden.
I love canals. I’ve had very happy holidays on them, and many a happy walk along them. I love the combination of the natural world with dramatically impressive engineering. The locks are such an effective way of making water go uphill, and yet so basic. The bridges and metalwork are efficient and elegant in their simplicity.
I stopped to have the first section of my breakfast. The chef had put some Greek yogurt in a jam jar with some home made fruit compote in another. I enjoyed it sitting by the water and counted myself very lucky.
My first sign of life on a boat was meeting Wayne, who works for the ambulance service. I commented on his excellent captain’s hat, and he promptly called out his friends Diane, Paul and Debbie from inside the narrow boat. They had properly put in the effort, wearing full sailor’s uniform. That has to be admired, specially on a sweltering day like today.
The other fantastic bit of canal engineering is the aqueduct. As a teenager I went on holiday on the Llangollen canal, which has a terrifyingly high one. My strategy then was to lie on my bunk with a pillow over my head until the boat had safely navigated the crossing. That was not a strategy I could employ while on foot over the Edstone acqueduct. I did gulp though.
The towpath periodically changes which side of the canal it follows, so the welcome shade would sometimes be lost. But generally the water helped to keep the temperature down, it was not too unbearable. But I resorted to my Fortunately podcast to keep my spirits up, and was interested to hear commentary on how women feel about walking alone. For the first time ever I was drawn to write in to a programme. I told them how I didn’t feel I was especially brave doing this, but also that I didn’t want my adventure to be curtailed by an unknown threat of persons unknown. I wonder if they’ll read it out.
The heat started to rev up. And with it, a new blister on my toe. It’s a constant routine of checking little niggles to see if they’re turning into something, before they get to be a problem. I’d just finished wrapping it up and redoing my shoes when I met a group of people looking intently on the ground and into the nearby lock. They reported that they’d seen a snake, ‘the largest I’ve seen in this country’. They were convinced it was an adder. I walked with enormous care for the next few 100 yards, the concern about my blister overtaken.
Just before Lowsonford bridge was an area of residential moorings. I stopped to chat with Paul and Allie, admiring the pots of flowers and carefully cut grass by the side of their mooring. It was interesting learning a bit about their life. Their boat is 57 feet long, which is about the maximum that can safely manage the locks. They have all mod cons aboard, including an Aga which also helps to heat them in the winter. It’s a big comfortable space, on which they live permanently with their 4 cats, 3 of which they inherited with the boat.
A bit further on I took a break to eat the rest of my breakfast, which had now turned into lunch. It was totally quiet apart from the wood pigeons calling and the running water from a leaky lock. The permanent moorers have the use of water and have electricity, and there’s a pub down the road. But they are also living off the grid in many ways. On this glorious afternoon I could totally understand the appeal.
But sadly I had to leave the towpath and cut inland. I was heading for the Heart of England Way again, but had to cross the M40 to get there. Next to the motorway was a railway line, and above me were regular planes ascending from Birmingham airport. It was an unnerving juxtaposition against the tranquillity I had just been experiencing.
As I was walking up towards the brow of the only hill I have climbed today some cyclists were approaching in the opposite direction. The girl at the back looked fed up, and said how much she hated hills. I agreed, and at the same time thought about how it isn’t just the landscape that is slowly changing, it’s the accents too. Gone are the broad burrs of the West Country, I am now firmly in the twang of the Midlands.
The last leg was on a path that cut across a number of fields. It was clear enough, but with nettles and brambles lining it, and then later tall scratchy crops making me partly regret wearing shorts.
So I took a diversion and walked the last bit on the road. I’ve walked a long way today, mainly to reduce the mileage for Tuesday which is forecast to be even hotter. Although my leg was sore, and I was hot and tired, I was feeling good, as after a month apart David was there to pick me up along with Saffy, our lovely dog.
He drove me to Droitwich where we are going to celebrate his birthday tomorrow with our dear friends. So another rest day for me tomorrow. With the heat forecast that feels like an excellent outcome.
Distance travelled: 19 miles - longest of the trek so far
Total ascent: 600 feet
Calories burned: 2500
Local tipple - Moretti lager
Dinner cooked by Philip and Andrew - delicious
Hake stew with home grown vegetables
Video of the day