Can you guess what this post is going to be about?
When I came to the river Avon (my second river Avon, significantly more flooded even than the first), I knew I had turned my feet to the last week or so of the journey.
It was the first week of November by this point, the air cool, grey, rainy for the most part, but although my Achilles tendons were starting to be bothered by so much walking — I hadn’t had enough rest days in my eagerness to get to the finish — that eagerness made up for a lot. I also chose to stay the week in Salisbury, as there was a hostel there, and take the bus up and down the Avon valley as I did my walking. This made a big difference in my speed and pleasure, as it meant I didn’t have to carry my full bag — and it meant that I could happily buy some new books in Salisbury’s used-bookstores without fearing too much about having to carry them.
(Although as it turned out when it came time to pack for London and home, I had been slightly over-enthusiastic in this; combined with the books I’d bought in Oxford and mailed to my cousin in London, and the Christmas shopping I did once there, I ended up having to borrow a bag from my cousin to get it all home. I ended up with over twenty books.)
I am now very familiar with the little towns of Upavon and Netheravon, Figheldean and Durrington, and Amesbury from the bus. The villages and towns along this part of the Avon are squeezed between various army ranges, so there were lots of signs for things like tank crossings
as well as notices about geese
which consists of modern posts marking an ancient wooden monument. From there walked across National Trust property towards Stonehenge. I was intending to walk up the famous Avenue to see the alignment of arches and things at Stonehenge, but ended up walking the wrong way down the square block of trees that was my turning-point, and instead came pretty close to circumambulating Stonehenge entirely. I kept trying to figure out where it was, expecting it to be ahead of me, when all of a sudden I looked to my left and realised — there it was!
I’ve already mentioned how Stonehenge is in the crook of two major highways. One of them was closed when I was there, but the other was busy. Stonehenge was busy, too, with clusters of people visible amongst the stones. Although I’d been planning to go up to it, when I got to the entrance I decided I’d quite enjoyed the silent and solitary appreciation from a distance.
From where I’d walked, however inadvertently, I’d seen the monument as it had always been: standing solitary in the grass. I’ve been there before, when you could still get close to the stones; been there on nearly empty days in the winter. I didn’t want to be around crowds. Instead I walked along the highway for an unpleasant five hundred yards before picking up the bridleway that led towards Sarum.
I stopped to look back a few times before I turned to the barrows, woods, valleys, and hills on the other side of the road. I saw no one but someone riding a horse up and down a field; none of those people at Stonehenge thought to leave the paid access for the free walking country spreading out around it. It never ceases to amaze me how easy it is to get outside the bubble. A hundred yards does it, quite often.
It was so misty moisty weather when I was in Salisbury that I don’t have many pictures; the day it was quite nice, when I went to the Remembrance Day service in the cathedral, I forgot my camera. But no matter. When I started to follow the Avon Way from the cathedral, the signs said “Christchurch” — and Christchurch is the town at the mouth of the Avon, a mile away from my destination on the Channel itself.
I took two days to do the thirty-odd miles, because the other thing about walking in England in November — apart from the wet — is that the days are increasingly short. Add in a half-hour or hour-long bus ride and one really only can walk from 10:30 to 4:00 — the buses not leaving too early on the Saturday I was finishing up.
I cris-crossed the river a few times because I couldn’t walk on the footpaths. I tried to follow one particular stretch and had to turn back because the ground was too wet, to the point where I was ankle-deep in water. (By that point I didn’t care how wet my feet were, though I didn’t want to lose my shoes — or myself! — in some bog. See my wariness after sinking unexpectedly in the Mersey estuary…)
This took me through part of the New Forest, where I saw the famous New Forest ponies grazing freely on the side of the road.
The mixture I’d seen all the way across England, of surprisingly wild pockets mixed with pleasant villages and modern eyesores, continued all the way down the Avon as well. It appears that November is thatching season, as I saw several different thatchers at work
And I noticed the use of flint in the walls, something I remember from visiting my uncle when he lived in Kent but hadn’t seen since. That alone told me I was nearing the chalk cliffs — though I was deeply disappointed there were no sights of the sea at all until I got to the top of the cliffs!
I also saw some buildings on staddle stones, which are mushroom-shaped pillars intended to raise haystacks or other grains above reach of vermin. The things one learns from Edwardian Farm!
Thanks for reading along, everyone. It was a fantastic walk, and I’m so glad I did it, lingering soreness of my Achilles tendons and all. I’m not going to stop writing this blog — indeed, am hoping to get to a more regular weekly posting — and I hope you’ll stay around. Even if I’m not doing anything quite so grand as walking across a country this year, I do have some exciting plans — and there are adventures to be found close to home, too. Plus I have a lot of cool pictures I haven’t shared with you — and stories and incidents and curious thoughts — so please, stay tuned!