The end of March 2013 was Good Friday and time was running out on the Moonwalk Training front. After a horrible wet twenty miles it was time to step it up to twenty two. The forecast was good, as long as I got home before the afternoon, but it was still icy cold. As ever, there were plenty of moments when I wondered why I’d signed up for this…29 March 2013
While most sane people were having a Good Friday lie in I got up at six fifteen all ready for a long walk. Well as ready as you ever can be, there’s always a part of me wanting to make an excuse and stay indoors. Today I had another new thing to try out on the walk, a couple of battery packs for the iPhone. If they worked they could solve all my battery problems.
The blue sky was a huge bonus. Afternoon showers were forecast but I was hoping to be back before that happened. Without the cloud cover it was colder than ever and I shrank down into my padded jacket, pulling the collar up around my face. The puddles at Monks Walk were frozen, like my hands, but the sky made up for any discomfort. It seems like forever since I last walked under cerulean blue and it put a spring in my step and a grin on my face.
By the pitch and putt some geese were digging for worms. A tremendous rhythmic wooshing noise made me turn to see two swans flying low over the water towards me. Mute swans are, apparently, the largest birds that can fly and boy are they noisy when they do! One swan landed on the water in a kind of running shower of churned up spume, more of a crash than a landing. It left a long trail of ripples. The other flew on, huge wings cutting through the air making a womp, womp, womp. How can something so graceful and stately on the water be so ungainly in the air?
Soon I was over Mansbridge and passing the fungus covered log I saw on my rainy twenty miles. Even dry these are some of the most beautiful fungi I’ve seen, almost like flowers with curly edged petals. The woodland path to the blue bridge was still flooded so I took the green bridge to St Marys church and Wessex Lane. The river seemed very green and high today, lapping at the bottom of the bridge. Much more rain and the banks will burst.
At the Swan Centre I picked up a skinny latte. The collapsable bottles of iced coffee in my back pack could wait until later, I needed something to warm my hands. Clouds seemed to be gathering, which was a worry, I didn’t fancy another wet walk. Maybe if I upped my speed I could outrun any rain? After I’d passed under the railway bridge at Highbridge Road I saw two things that made me feel better. The first were little purple trumpets of hedge bindweed, maybe a sign of warmer weather on the way? Then I saw pine cones scattered on the verge. They were open. Everyone knows an open pine cone means dry weather and a closed one means rain. Of course they could have snapped shut as soon as I’d walked past but it was a good sign.
One of the cottages dotted along Highbridge Road had a lovely display of hellebores spilling over the garden wall, all pinks and whites with their frill of anthers like little chandeliers. Not such a good sign, even if it does presage spring, were newly emerging nettles on the verges further along. Note to self, remember to look before using the bushes as a toilet!
The horses in cow pyjamas were out in force. Today some of them had coats on and I can’t say I blame them. Even though I was more or less eight miles into my walk I was still cold. This week I managed to get all the way along Highbridge Road without anyone trying to mow me down with a car which was nice. The walk without footpaths seemed much quicker and easier for some reason and, by the time I’d got to Main Road, I was finally beginning to warm up.
Just before I reached Twyford Village I saw some more black and white horses in a field, maybe they’re a speciality on Twyford Downs or perhaps they’re all related, who knows? On I went down the hill, past The Bugle pub and the pretty row of flint clad cottages. Further still and an old wrought iron pot holder attached to a high garden wall caught my eye. Purple and white pansies were tumbling from the plain terracotta pots.
At the bottom of Searles Hill I crossed the road and took the footpath I knew would lead me to the pretty little church with the black and gold clock. It starts with a steep ramp, at the top of which is a high brick wall. Today a cat sat on top of the wall eyeing me suspiciously. She was a rich tortoiseshell and white, quite a lovely looking thing. As soon as I’d passed her she jumped from the wall and ran off.
In the first field a chestnut coloured horse with a long blonde mane and wearing a brown coat was munching grass. She looked up as she heard me approach. Her shaggy mane hung over her eyes, reminding me of my hair when it needs cutting. Behind was the spire of the church. The path seemed much shorter than I remembered from last time, there didn’t seem to be any benches either. Strange.
When I got to the church and turned off along Old Rectory Lane I was sure I was on the same path, I could see the helebores under the hedge and the clump of heart shaped cyclamen leaves. Perhaps I imagined the benches, either that or I was going mad. Right at the end of the lane I saw my first dandelion of spring. When they’re in my garden they’re not my favourite things in the world but here on the grass at the side of the lane the starburst of bright yellow petals looked lovely.
On past the funny little stone bus shelter with the tiled roof and a window so you can sit inside and still see the bus coming. Once, when I was training for Moonwalk number one, I ate my lunch in it. When I hit eleven miles I was in sight of the motorway about half a mile from Five Bridges Road. The next long walk will take me onto it.
So I turned, feeling quite fresh at this point, and started heading back. Not long before I turned I’d noticed a lane on the other side of the road and I stopped for a minute to check it out on the WalkJogRun map. It seemed to lead me to the church and Old Rectory Lane so I decided to walk along it. On the way I passed a farm with chickens in a pen and a wonderful view over the river. What a great place to live.
Along the lane was a house with a flint and brick wall tumbling with moss and saxifrage. Daffodils and primroses were blooming and I stopped for a moment to look. Further along I found a farm with two donkeys standing in the yard watching me pass. Then I reached the church and had a choice to make. One path led past a big barn and, I guessed, back to the main road, the other through the church. I wavered, undecided. Eventually I started off along the path past the barn, noticing as I did that there was music coming from within. It sounded like a rock group rehearsing. How strange.
Checking out WalkJogRun as I went, I could see this was going to be a long route so I turned back and decided to go through the churchyard, hoping I could get out the other side and back onto the original footpath. The gravestones were leaning in all directions and were so covered in lichen it was impossible to read the inscriptions, old graves, unwilling to give up their secrets. The church is a beautiful flint and stone building. I stopped to admire the stained glass windows, one a tryptych another a diptych and then a single window but this one had a car parked in front of it so I couldn’t get a proper look. Just past the curuch there was a monument dedicated to the Reverand Charles Shipley who died in 1834. He must have been popular because it was quite huge, almost like an obilisk with a curious iron cross on top.
Thankfully I could get back onto Old Rectory Lane through the churchyard and I soon made off along the footpath. There was definitely no bench though which was annoying because I’d planned to stop and drink the first of my frappachinos. When I came to the ramp to Searles Hill I noticed there was another small cutway leading in a different direction. Maybe this would lead to the benches? It didn’t, it led through a small oval road lined with houses. Once again I stopped to check out WalkJogRun and suddenly it all made sense. There were two seperate footpaths one either side of the fields, both leading onto Old Rectory Lane at slightly different points. I’d taken the one nearest the road, the one with the benches was further along. Doh! The oval road led to the end of his second footpath and I decided on a quick detour so I could sit on the bench, get my frappachino out of my bag and have a drink.
After a little rest and a welcome drink looking out over the fields and the river I went back along the footpath towards the road. At this point my iPhone battery was getting low so I plugged in the first of the battery packs. It seemed to work because I could see the charge going back up in the phone. There was a lovely little school as I made my way back to Twyford High Street, brick and flint with almost church like arched windows. The brick and flint thing seems to be quite a theme in these parts.
Today I managed to get almost all the way back along Highbridge Road without anyone trying to run me over. Several cars passed but they slowed and gave me room, all except one. You guessed it, it was a woman driving a four by four. Maybe the highway code doesn’t apply to them.
Shortly after this I came to a woman riding a white horse, behind her a man was leading a brown horse. At the sight of me the white horse snorted and raised its head so I slowed and got onto the verge, not wanting to frighten it and have it throw the woman. She patted the horse’s neck and said, “shhh, it’s only a lady, she’s not going to bite you.”
“Probably not,” I joked, “I’m not that hungry. Would you mind if I took your photo and used it for my blog though?”
I explained that I was on the second half of a twenty two mile walk as part of my Moonwalk training and was writing a blog about it.
“Of course you can take my photo,” she said, “but I think you’re mad walking twenty two miles. Strangely, I get that a lot.
One of the horses in cow pyjamas was rolling in the grass waving his legs about in the air as I passed. He looked like he was really enjoying himself. Maybe he sensed me watching or he just got fed up with rolling but he stood up shortly after I stopped. He looked a bit embarrassed, as if I’d caught him out, then tried to look as if he’d been standing there all along and wouldn’t even think of doing something as undignified as rolling in the grass.
At around seventeen miles I got out my second frappachino and drank it as I walked. I was still not feeling too bad and I figured, with five miles to go, it would give me a boost. A mile later my calves began to ache and my right knee hurt. It wasn’t too painful, just a nagging ache but I was really counting down the miles now. The first battery pack began to run out round about this time so I stopped for a moment and swapped to the second one, wondering if it would last all the way home or not.
On the way back towards the airport an old car passed me, Commando tells me it was an Austin 7. A little further along it was stopped at the side of the road with the bonnet up. The driver was fiddling about with the engine. Old cars may look good but I suppose they aren’t exactly reliable.
By the time I got to the river my legs felt like lead and my right knee was really aching. Why only one knee ached is a mystery, I’ve never had any problems with my knees before. It’s a bit of a worry with only six weeks to go before the Moonwalk. Hopefully it will be ok tomorrow. Somehow I managed to make those last two miles home, with every step my knee throbbed and my feet were beginning to ache too. Still I walked the twenty two miles, beat the rain and I just about made it back before the battery pack ran out. Think I’d better get another couple just in case. Just two more long walks to go before the big one.