As we wait for another polar vortex to make its way across the continent, freezing solid the film of water left from yesterday’s warm(ish) temperatures and wintry mix turning to rain, I decided I’d cast my thoughts — and my pictures — back to a rather milder season in that green and pleasant land across the pond.
A currently frozen pond, I might add.
Anyhow, when I last wrote about my walk I left off in Inkberrow and the move from P.G. Wodehouse country to the Shakespearean vortex that is Stratford-on-Avon, Warwickshire. The next day, which took me into Stratford proper, was a day of increasing Shakespearean references.
After my experience getting to Inkberrow via the worst-maintained footpaths in England, I decided to leave the doubtful clarity of the Millennium Way for paths that I thought would be a bit better maintained, Shakespeare’s Avon Way, which runs, as the name suggests, along the Avon river. However, the Avon river is some miles from Inkberrow, so I picked a route combining bridlepaths and lanes and an unfortunate stretch along a B-road, and kept enjoying the place names. The first part of the morning was gorgeous, though the going was still rather wet underfoot. It was very quiet — a designated ‘quiet lane’ to start off with, then the bridlepaths through woodlands full of pheasants (who fortunately did not chase me, probably because I didn’t threaten them with the camera), and a pretty near perfect autumn day in terms of gentle crispness warming to pleasant sun.
I eventually came down the main street of Bidford-on-Avon, had lunch in a tiny little cafe where I was the only customer (though the owner/chef kindly made me a BLT when I expressed a desire for some sort of vegetable along with my bacon butty), crossed the river on the bridge, and set off along the riverbank for what turned out to be a lovely walk indeed. The path led me through fields and in and out of a few villages, and although the place names were nowhere so remarkable as the previous day, the houses were beautiful timber-framed and thatched. Welford-on-Avon was notable for its pleasant atmosphere and obvious wealth; actually, it was notable how much money was clearly in the area. This wasn’t quite the same as the Teme Valley in Worcestershire, which had scattered country estate houses and large and rather grand farms visible in the folds of the hills, but rather the sort of gentrified country village houses that showed money in their upkeep and period details.
I shudder to think how much a thatched cottage in a pretty village half an hour’s drive outside of Stratford costs, but there was evidence of other sorts of life, too. There was a stretch of path along the road with clear flood warnings, a problem which is apparently so prevalent that the trailer park (the British campervan type) nearby had to have a sign stating emphatically that the flooding did not affect it and all its units would stay dry. Good to know, I thought, but I’m not sure how they expect people to get there when the road on either side can flood to six feet.
As I got closer to Stratford I met people out for a walk. At one point a man turned back after we exchanged hellos to ask me a short series of questions. It turned out he was a volunteer ranger, so we chatted about the state of footpath maintenance in England for a bit, and then I continued on happily. I was hoping I meet some famous actor — though to be honest, they’d have to be very famous for me to recognize them out for a walk — but as far as I know, didn’t. I just enjoyed a lovely afternoon coming along the Avon into town.
And then I couldn’t find the bus to where the hostel is, and had to walk for another two miles. Not far, really — the next day I happily walked into town and back — but I was tired and hungry and footsore by this point, and it was making for a long day of which much had been on roads. After slowly walking past very large and expensive mansions, I eventually found a grocery store in the next village up the road, and discovered on my way out that the bus stop was right there (the bus went on a loop instead of the obvious main road from Stratford to the hostel), and the bus was coming. So I got on, asked if I could be told where the hostel was, and had a discussion with the driver to the effect that it was about two stops up the road.
At that point I didn’t care. I felt that paying two pounds was worth saving even ten minutes of walking. However, I was embarrassed by the fact that after I’d sat down, I could hear the couple in front of me discussing the situation and wondering why I felt the need to take the bus two stops. I felt like saying to them, hey, I walked 19 miles today! Or Hey, I walked here from Scotland! But instead I just seethed a little and planned what I was going to eat.
And the next day I walked back into Stratford and spent the day buying slightly too expensive books and going to various houses and locations associated with William Shakespeare, and I had a great time only marred by uncertainty as to where I was staying the next day. Oxford, as it turned out — but I’ll keep that for next time.
(I’ve had some problems with my computer, so pictures will come another day. I have some nice ones of old thatched-roof houses to share…)