Welcome – and thank you so much for clicking on my walking blog! I write about walking as a physical, mental and spiritual activity and hope you enjoy reading about my adventures along the way. If you click on the heading above a link to categorise the walks I have written about will appear on the right of the screen. Please also click here to subscribe to my blog. Alternatively just keep scrolling down.
You can follow my local walks in amongst other places, Harlington and St Albans, my long distance trails, such as The Ridgeway and The Pilgrims Way and walks in my spiritual home of Dorset. I hope that you find my comments helpful and can gain some inspiration to put on those walking boots and set off outside your front door. All your comments are particularly welcomed as this is a journey of discovery for me too. As Marcel Proust said “We don’t receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us”.
Have fun and “Keep Trudgin…..”
It is no secret that my favourite place for walking is Thomas Hardy’s Wessex and here is an Index of just a few of the walks I have done. I hope to add many more to it!
1 Golden Cap – A Boxing Day Circular Walk up Golden Cap near Bridport.
2 Pilsdon Pen – A short climb up “traditionally” the highest point in Dorset
3 There’s something about Eype – a stroll from Bridport to Eype and back
4 Wessex Heights – Bulbarrow
5 A walk near Bridport – Hills and Holloways
I have also walked in stages and several sections many times the Dorset Coastal path from Lyme Regis in the West to Studland in the East; explored the Sturminster Newton and Marnhull (or do I mean Marlott?) area and know the footpaths around Dorchester, Stinford and Bockhampton as well as those around my Bedfordshire home in Harlington (Index here). I will be adding further details of some of these walks in due course.
I first struggled up to the summit of Golden Cap , after consuming a couple of pints of cider in the Anchor Inn at Seatown fifteen years ago. Nowadays my fitness and my drinking habits are very much improved and instead of a demanding challenge I can find the walk a pleasure. I have climbed it many times since, from both directions, on my own, with a friend and with T and it has now become rather a tradition that each time I am in the locality I make the pilgrimage to the highest point on the South Coast.
Probably like a lot of people I prefer walking when there are few others around and so this being Boxing Day T and I paid our £2 to park in the car park at Seatown early on Boxing Day morning, hoping to escape the crowds. Although why I should consider this as my “tradition” and not allow anyone the same opportunity is incredibly selfish of me!
No-one was around as we joined the well-trodden coastal path through scrubland and open fields and quite quickly began to climb.
One solitary runner passed us and amazed us with his fitness as the further we walked the more far-reaching the views became. Looking backwards down towards the 18th century Anchor Inn we could quickly appreciate how far we had climbed.
As we reached the summit at 188 m Charmouth and Lyme appeared to our west.
Someone had placed a Christmas decoration at the foot of the trig point and we breathed in the clear fresh morning air as we took in the spectacular views.
A Labrador wearing his Christmas collar was running joyfully across the summit and his owners took our picture before we descended towards the ruined church at Stanton St Gabriel. This is all that remains as evidence of a once thriving community of 23 families settled around a village green here in 1650. The population gradually shifted to nearby Morcombelake. This area is one of my “special places”. Somewhere that the air always feels stilled and the presence of God very close.
I have a great fondness for deserted and abandoned churches – I think because I don’t see the sadness, but I look at them as evidence of the faith of our ancestors – a faith which for me endures today. The sun was now rising further into the sky and we stopped for thermos flask tea.
I sat and thought generally about the concept of “tradition”. Particularly at Christmas time so many of us have our own ways of doing things. Perhaps cultural and family habits that have been passed down through generations and give a sense of comfort and belonging. Tradition can bring families together and enable people to reconnect with friends. Many of our memories of “special” times come from such traditions and they give us an opportunity to celebrate the things that really matter in life.
However, although this link with the past can be profound and meaningful there is always the space in our lives for new ways of doing things and new traditions to be forged. People pass away, but the empty space at the table is often replaced by a new baby in the family. (“One in; one out” – as my mother bluntly puts it!). How many “traditional” families are there around nowadays, anyway – we come together to find new ways of accommodating and welcoming people. Some chose to spend time alone. In particular, T and I enjoyed the peace and quiet away in Dorset this Christmas and chose not to take part in the commercialisation of the event.
I think also that establishing a Tradition (be it climbing Golden Cap, opening presents in a certain order, welcoming someone in a certain way) offers a certain simplicity to life and an excellent context for meaningful pause and reflection.
Onwards from St Gabriel’s it would have been possible to climb Stonebarrow further down the coast but we considered that we did not need to burn off anywhere near the 6,000 calories the BBC had claimed that people consumed on Christmas Day and so we decided to return skirting the edges of Langdon Hill. As we got near to Seatown it became apparent that everyone else had now got out of bed! So many were enjoying the fresh, clear weather to take their traditional Boxing Day Walk.
The Anchor Inn is excellent for refreshments but we had bought our own and were able to walk along the shingle beach and eat our sandwiches whilst listening to that wonderful sound of waves dragging shingle.
As a child I used to think that the sea stopped at night and remember being amazed at learning it was never turned off and that its movement was eternal. To borrow a friend’s recent thoughts – the seawater retreats to enable the waves to move forward – I like this idea. Sometimes we may retreat but we continue to move on and like those waves I will continue to return and climb Golden Cap for as long as I can.
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“So I am found on Ingpen Beacon, or on Wylls-Neck to the west,
Or else on homely Bulbarrow, or little Pilsdon Crest,
Where men have never cared to haunt, nor women have walked with me,
And ghosts then keep their distance; and I know some liberty”. Hardy (“Wessex Heights”)
“Little Pilsdon Crest” ironically, is traditionally known as the highest hill in Dorset. I have always identified with the sentiment of Hardy’s poem “Wessex Heights” and after climbing “homely Bulbarrow” last summer was privileged to climb today where “mind-chains do not clank when one’s next neighbour is the sky”.
T and I set off early and were able to make the short climb up from the layby at the bottom of the hill on the B3164, in the untarnished atmosphere of early morning. The views on reaching the summit of this Iron Age hill fort were absolutely stunning. Early morning mists were still cradling in the hollows down in the vales and those areas the sun had yet to reach held on to their frosty white coating. Just as a winter’s morning should be – a slight chill in the air but the warmth of the sun coming through giving promise for the day ahead.
We could follow the coast round in a westerly direction from Burton Bradstock, Bridport (the trees atop Colmer’s Hill standing proudly ahead), Golden Cap, Lyme and Devon beyond. As we continued turning clockwise our view extended into Somerset and Wiltshire beyond, then returning to the Blackmore Vale and then southwards to the area where we knew Dorchester would be. Our eyes were then pulled back down to the spectacular coastline.
Pilsdon’s summit is topped by an Iron Age hill fort and when the area was excavated in the 1960s the remains of 14 roundhouses were uncovered near the centre. We could make out slight risen areas in the soft springy turf which may have been burial mounds or alternatively medieval “pillow mounds” – man made areas for breeding rabbits.
There were steep ditches around the top of the summit and we ruminated on how difficult it must have been to attack. However, the N T information board told us that it had eventually been taken by the Romans.
Some say that the poem “Wessex Heights” was written by Hardy during a period of depression. The general theme of the poem certainly reads as if he only feels free and at liberty when high away from the town and amongst the hills. He talks of “phantoms” pursuing him and people saying “harsh heavy things”. Hardy received, of course, much criticism of his novel “Jude the Obscure”, which had been published the previous year.
For me, however, the attraction of the poem and the lure of walking and climbing hills, particularly those in Wessex, is to return to “my simple self that was” and to “know some liberty”. Rather than reading depression into this poem and harbouring on the difficulties I sometimes find being in towns, crowded places and amongst people – I like to give thanks for those wild and windy places that still exist for us to escape to.
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It is no secret that I regard Dorset (or perhaps more particularly Wessex) as my spiritual home. The call is constant. I have my special places here where I feel particularly connected to something much more powerful than myself: Ringstead Bay, St Gabriel’s on the way up Golden Cap, Colmer’s Hill, the particular stretch of the River Frome between Bockhampton and Stinsford and, of course, Stinsford Churchyard itself…………………… but more recently the pebble beach at Eype has filled me with an inner peace
What better way to spent a Christmas Eve morning than in the market town of Bridport – a cornucopia of bookshops (four, I believe), proper greengrocers, bakers and butchers, ironmongers, countless charity shops and market stalls offering fossils, smoked duck, gloves, soaps, books, records, the list is endless. I have never enjoyed the experience of “shopping”, but wandering around Bridport is different. T and I spent a couple of hours just meandering and picking up last minute Christmas treats before having the rest of the day to spend on what I enjoy best – walking!
Parking the car near the Leisure Centre we were soon far away from even the “acceptable” face of consumerism in Bridport and following the end section of the Monarch’s Way towards West Bay.
Passing by Palmer’s Brewery attractively situated by the river we initially followed the route of the Brit, before crossing meadows and fields on a well-marked footpath down to West Bay.
Perhaps better known now as the setting of the TV Programme Broadchurch, West Bay will always remind me of a very rainy afternoon the first time I introduced T to the delights of Dorset. (A lot of his walking seems to have been unfortunately done in the rain!). That afternoon the deluge was just too great to be outside and we spent the afternoon doing crosswords and Sudoko in a local pub. Today, no rain but a really blustery wind – and then I realised I had broken my “cardinal rule”!
I remember someone telling me years ago to plan a walk so far as possible with the prevailing wind behind and so with all the miles I have covered and the times I have walked the Dorset coastline I have always trudged west to east with the sea on my right. How strange today to be walking with the sea on my left – and facing a bracing wind. At times we were left breathless as we followed the coastal path westward for a couple of miles. It was interesting, however, to see the coastline from the other direction and appreciate a different aspect of the cliffs and downlands.
It was slightly misty and the views were not grand but once we reached the privacy of Eype Beach (we were the only people there) we knew that our exertions had been worth it. We stayed a while each in our own thoughts ; waves too rough for stone skimming but plenty of time to build a pebble tower.
Christmas Eve, carefully placing pebbles one atop another, became a form of meditation – such a perfect way to spend this special time awaiting Christmas Day.
A wander along the footpath adjacent to the lane leading to the A35, Bridport bypass, took us past Eype Church which I couldn’t see marked on the OS Map. We ate our sandwiches (how many times have I expressed gratitude for all the benches in Churchyards) and I pondered on the beautifully simple words on the headstone of a local man. With distant views of Colmers Hill we followed the footpath back towards the A 35 and after crossing it again followed a path through fields.
We passed through a farmyard and back to the River Brit and returned to the outskirts of Bridport. The route was easy to pick out using Ordnance Survey Explorer Map 116. There was a tough climb out of West Bay along the coastal path and a further hill up out of Eype. Refreshments available at West Bay and of course Bridport. It was only about five miles but felt a little longer with the climbs.
How blessed were we to be able to enjoy such peace and quiet, refreshed and awoken by the brisk wind, moved by the ever ceasing waves and ready for tomorrow’s festivities. And, yes, there is something a bit special about Eype.
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We left Clophill by following part of the Greensand Ridge Walk and carefully crossed the A6 at Deadman Hill. I must have been too young to have heard about the murder which took place just off the layby here in 1961, but I do remember as a child the story being mentioned on occasion as we drove up the A6 towards Bedford. Perhaps because of this memory and these associations I have only once wandered in Maulden Woods (on the western side of the A6). What a joy I had been missing!
The route enters the woods and passes by a couple of cottages. After a short while I heard the sound of axes. Behind one cottage and adjacent to a gypsy-style caravan a couple of young lads were chopping wood. Maybe I am just an old romantic – the sun had started to come out and cast shadows through the trees; the leafmould smelt almost nutritious beneath our feet; a red kite (so far east!) flew overhead – but I felt such a connection with the earth and the cycle of life. It is not unknown that I am an admirer of Thomas Hardy and at this moment I was reminded of Giles Winterbourne in “The Woodlanders”. – such a simple, honest and rustic character, who was said to be able to distinguish trees by the sound of the wind through their branches. Winterbourne was so “natural” he was almost part of the wood. It was great to see two of the younger generation doing physical work in a natural environment. Hope that our connection with the natural world will not be lost. The path then became more sandy as it passed a curious octagonal thatched cottage.
It continued skirting woods until reaching a stone commemorating the Golden Jubilee. Soon we passed across Maulden Church Meadow and found ourselves at St Mary the Virgin Church. Ouside there was the Ailesbury Mausoleum. Then what a blessing – the beautiful Church was open.
We stayed a while, prayed and contemplated on the candles which had been lit under a stained glass window dedicated to St Alban – I wonder was I being passed a message? The blue and yellow glass in the window reflecting the colours of the funeral wreaths in St Albans City football colours the day before. The stained glass reminding me of some words of one of the Eulogies that broken glass and broken lives can be put back together to make something beautiful.
We walked around the lanes of Maulden before once again entering some fields. Here the way became really muddy (it was also quite muddy near Flitton Moor and I would definitely recommend good boots for the walk). I seem to have a thing about photographing ponies at the moment and we made friends with two along the way!
Eventually the route runs back into Ampthill. There are, of course, many places for refreshments here and also plenty of charity and other shops to look around if one still has the energy – we didn’t! We were back at Ampthill Park in time to see the sun go down. Somehow a fitting end to a day of reflection, happy memories and the knowledge and trust that although much of nature has put herself to bed for the winter we know we will have some wonderful joys to await us in Spring.
The first part of this article on a circular walk from Ampthill can be found here.
To see an index of further walks in the Beds, Herts and Bucks area please click here.
To subscribe to my blog and see a full index of posts (including long-distance trails The Ridgeway and The Pilgrims’ Way) please click here or “like” my Facebook Page: “Jackie McAll – About the Journey”.
Walking in the countryside around Ampthill, Maulden and Clophill today demonstrated, as I always find, that such a simple act has so many benefits.
Following on from a family funeral the day before and the onset of a headcold, probably bought on by emotion as much as sitting still in stuffy hot rooms for too long the fresh air beckoned. Walking is for me the perfect combination of action and contemplation; the physical act of getting the blood pumping around the body together with the meditative quality of just placing one foot down before the other with no other concerns.
This 12 mile walk starting from the car park at Ampthill Park (leaflet here) contains a superb combination of a Georgian town, small villages, riverside, fields and woods, together with plenty of refreshment stops, historical references and quiet places for contemplation. There is so much to cover I have split this article in two. This first part covers the route from Ampthill to Clophill.
The trees had mostly discarded their Autumn foliage as T and I set out from Ampthill Park into the Town Centre. Along with the Georgian architecture, the town contains pretty thatched cottages, Victorian terraces and more modern housing. Passing through into Kings Arms Yard and following the path we could see an interesting public garden over to the right. However, it was closed on the day we walked. It would have been pleasant to walk around it. We skirted the housing estate on the edge of Ampthill and ended up at the roundabout close to the A507.
I wonder how many people realise that just past this roundabout on the fields adjacent to the A507 are the remains of a medieval moated grange at Ruxox Farm. A sign nearby tells how the farm provided food for the monks at Dunstable Priory as well as the people of Flitwick. The name of the farm comes from the Saxon Hroc’s Oak, possibly named after Hroc, who may have farmed here 1,000 or more years ago. The current farmhouse is a typical ‘Model Farm’ constructed in the 1850’s by the Duke of Bedford’s estate. Roman and Saxon finds have been recorded nearby. Quite often we travel so far to see interesting historical sites, forgetting that there are so many in our own neighbourhood.
After skirting nearby Flitwick and Flitton Moors, the route joined part of the way covered on my recent Two Moors Walk and I could see Flitton Church in the distance long before reaching the pretty village. We plodded along, both of us deep in our own thoughts. The day was cloudy but so very still. Arriving in Flitton we were too early to stop at the White Hart and unfortunately the Church was also locked. I remember on my walk of the Pilgrims’ Way how almost every Church I passed was open and I did find such interest and peace in each one I entered.
Continuing through Flitton we reached Wardhedges (again slightly too early for the Jolly Coopers to be open but useful for other walkers to know about should they require refreshment) before returning to cross several fields.
Just outside Silsoe we reached a plaque explaining the Beaumont Tree. The legend goes that at one time an elm grew here out of the remains of an executed highwayman and the tree had magical curative properties. The slightly macabre custom was for people suffering from ague to drive an iron nail into the tree trunk with a strand of hair or toe nail attached just as the church clock struck midnight. Pieces of the tree, along with iron nails and samples of hair and nails are now in the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Cambridge. The original tree died of Dutch Elm disease in the 1970s and an oak has been planted in its place.
Once thoughts of pieces of hair and toenails had been dismissed from our minds a mile or two of very peaceful walking across fields and woods followed before crossing the busy A6. Soon we found ourselves in Clophill. Again there are a couple of pubs in the village together with a village store for those in need of supplies. We sat and ate our lunch on a bench on the village green whilst watching a workman spend an interesting amount of time spraying blue paint around pieces of uneven pavement and taking photographs of the same.
The walk continues through some of the housing areas of Clophill before working its way uphill along a tree lined lane heading Northwards. Randomly and thoughtlessly and then much more purposefully and determinedly kicking the leaves bought back childhood memories of 1960s child size 10 wellington boots tramping along similar paths near St Albans.
The fallen leaves were ankle deep on the ground and my thoughts turned to the passing of time and the fragility of our lives. I had read Prospero’s Speech from “The Tempest” at the funeral the day before:
“Our revels now are ended. These our actors, As I foretold you, were all spirits, and Are melted into air, into thin air: And like the baseless fabric of this vision, The cloud-capp’d tow’rs, the gorgeous palaces, The solemn temples, the great globe itself, Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve, And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff As dreams are made on; and our little life Is rounded with a sleep.”
Part 2 of this walk continuing on from Clophill, through Maulden Woods returning to Ampthill is featured here.
For full index of local walks in Beds and Herts click here.
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Sometimes the last minute, least planned walks are the best ones – as this walk near Flitwick proved to be. I had arranged to meet a friend for a walk in the Harlington locality but been busy and not really planned anything when I found the Flitwick and District Heritage Group’s leaflet for the Two Moors Heritage Trail. A five minute train trip from Harlington took me to Flitwick Station and after grabbing a quick coffee in the town centre we wandered down to the start of the walk by the Old Flitwick Mill on Greenfield Road. Extensive works were being undertaken to it.
The traffic in Flitwick seemed unusually busy and it was great to be very quickly away from the cars and following the line of the River Flit through woods and pastures. Autumn has seemed so late this year . (I am not complaining – the day was unseasonably mild), but the trees were still hanging onto many of their leaves and although the weather was dry the ground had not yet reached that stage of being covered in the rich coloured crisp leaves which I so love.
Autumn, to me always feels like a season of memories and mellow nostalgia and I have a very special childhood memory of kicking through leaves with my Nana on Bernard’s Heath in St Albans. I will have to save that pleasure for a few more weeks when I imagine Sharpenhoe Clappers will be knee (or maybe, ankle) deep in beech leaves.
I berated myself for not having visited this area sooner. It is so near to where I live and difficult to believe that there was so much wildlife and farm animals just five minutes away from Flitwick. The highlight was the sight of a fox just peeking through the trees across the River Flit. We sat and watched each other for a good five minutes whilst I tried to get a good photograph of him. He did not seem in a hurry to be going anywhere.
This area is really very pretty. The river quite wide in places, twisting and turning and making gentle bubbling noises as I walked alongside it.
The walk continues following the site of the old Greenfield Mill and the old course of the River Flit until arriving opposite the 500 year old Church at Flitton with the de Grey mausoleum. Unfortunately the Church was locked, which was a pity because the mausoleum is said to be one of the most important in England. I will hopefully return when it is open sometime.
When walking through rural areas and pretty villages my friend and I often fantasise about living in some of the beautiful houses we pass. Again we indulged in this fantasy when walking through Flitton. I love the thatched cottages and the small terraced dwellings. The idea of living very simply is one that appeals to me and in a small dwelling I can imagine I could put into practice that William Morris saying:
We also liked some of the more modern houses that had been built with some distinctive features and character. For both of us the peace and quietness is attractive. Our conversation, however, then usually reverts to “how would we manage without a local shop?”; public transport?; train station? – and we count our blessings and are grateful for our current homes. Flitton does however still have a pub – The White Hart. – details here.
After leaving Flitton, we found ourselves in the area known as Flitton Moor, which I had not visited before. What a lovely surprise this was! There was a shelter and very interesting noticeboard giving a wealth of information about the various Wetland, Grassland, Trees, Woodland and Wildlife in this Local Nature Reserve.
The barn was named after local artist and technical illustrator Jack Crawley who had been a WW2 spitfire pilot and his story was also told in the exhibits.
I was particularly drawn to a printing of the moving writing of Clement Clifford who had lived in the area from 1915 onwards for many years giving his description of how he used to walk and fish in the area. The writing captured how a place can have a certain “spiritual quality” or indeed even a “spirit” itself. It was a fairly long piece of writing and so beautiful that I will try and obtain a copy of it. But at present internet searches have proved fruitless. In fact, I think I will probably return there with pen and paper and write out a copy. Here is just the heading.
A leaflet which was available in the shelter tells how the area used to be part of the common land extending from Maulden to Flitton. It was used for grazing and peat cutting.
Following the enclosure acts some of the land around Maulden was removed from common ownership. However, the people of Flitton resisted the enclosure and close on 200 local men threatened to riot. Apparently the intervention of the local vicar was needed to calm matters down! It does seem so strange to us nowadays to think of so many men living in the area. After enclosure in 1825 the area was drained, the river straightened and land turned over to arable usage. More recently it had been used by Silsoe College for agricultural experiments. Now it provided a wide range of habitats for a diverse selection of wildlife. However, as has been mentioned in many of my other posts…………………… I am still looking for a kingfisher!
The trail carries on to Ruxos Farm where there are the remains of a monastic grange and moat and then crosses the Maulden Road. A slightly less pretty part of the walk is traversed here over a field and turning left through part of the industrial estate before crossing back over the road and into the Site of Special Scientific Interest of Flitwick Moor. This was a pretty part of the walk across a wet woodland environment. I was surprised to read about the “famous” (!) medicinal “Flitwick Waters” which used to be produced from the springs rising here.
It is only a short walk back into the Town (Village?) centre from here where there are plenty of places to stop for refreshment if one wishes. This is an easy five mile walk; taking a couple of hours and a really pleasant way to spend part of a morning. It would be possible to extend the walk into the Georgian town of Ampthill if one wanted to visit more of the area. The terrain is flat. I would imagine that after heavy rain it would be pretty muddy but the day on which we walked was dry. Apart from the Mauden Road, there are no main roads to cross, the walk was easily accessible by public transport and the signposting was good…………… a world away from the hustle and bustle of Tescos!
I find it difficult to believe I have lived in Harlington eight years and never walked the Wood End Trail. The excellent P3 leaflet had been sitting in the study for a while and prompted by a couple of conversations with villagers and also having sight of some of the old maps of the area I decided it was time to put matters right.
This is a great two to three hour walk in the Harlington area, flat and easily accessible. However, the day I walked it there were a couple of missing footpath signs and overgrown areas and I was pleased that I had the maps and leaflet to hand. Full route details are on the leaflet (details below)
After passing Harlington Manor House, where Bunyan was interrogated by the local magistrate Francis Wingate, prior to his incarceration in Bedford Prison, I continued down Station Road. Unfortunately the footpath sign just after the bungalow on the right hand side had been broken down but I could see the gap in the hedge where it should have been and I continued across the newly ploughed field for a break in the hedge on the other side. The leaves were just starting to change to their glorious autumnal colours in the hedgerow.
I thought I could hear the sound of the River Flit as I reached the edge of the field; instead it was the buzzing of the electricity pylons! I always feel slightly spooked passing under pylons so I quickly cut through to the main A5120 road. The only unattractive part of this walk was crossing the road and it is probably not something I would have attempted with children.
However, it occurs to me that one could begin the circular walk in Westoning and avoid crossing the main road. Once over the road I walked along to the layby (another alternative parking place)and behind it found the old dairy lane. Although I could hear the M1 in the distance I managed to block the noise out of my head and quite soon found the solitude which I so enjoy. After a mile or so, and skirting the remnants of an elm hedge the pathway opens out onto a field. Over to the left is the area where the Jacobean Mansion, Wood End House, would have been situated. The Astrys owned the Wood End estate from the mid sixteenth century and lived there until 1766. Several of them made gifts to the local villages. Their mansion was reputedly destroyed in the late eighteenth century. I could see just one more modern house left in the area. Then upon turning left two further Victorian Cottages.
Just past the cottages I found my way blocked over the waymarked bridge. But it was easy to miss out the bridge and skirt around to the side of the obstacle. The bridge was covered in brambles (unfortunately I walked too late in the season for there to be any blackberries left).
After crossing the open field the walk became more sheltered as it approached Wood End, Westoning. I had often driven along the road heading towards Woburn and seen the Wood End sign but never been down that lane. One thing that I love about walking is that it gives me a whole new geographical perspective on where places are situated relative to each other. I met a horse in a fine coat in the field backing on to the Wood End houses.
After crossing the Woburn Road I joined the footpath again and crossed what the leaflet described as an “all weather racing track”. I don’t know what this is used for – maybe horses – and perhaps someone can enlighten me? There is a small spinney to negotiate here and another bridge over the River Flit before following the trackway along into Church Road Westoning. We have had such beautiful Autumn weather this year with little rain but the cows were lying down. An ominous sign of things to come perhaps?
I love this old area of Westoning and passed by St Mary Magdalene Church. Apparently this was mentioned under “Hertfordshire” in the Domesday Book. The trail continues along Church Road passing several substantial dwellings and a pretty thatched cottage and down a footpath between more modern houses but I used this point as a convenient break and went into the village to buy some provisions at the shop. It would also be a good stop off point for a pub lunch. There are two pubs in the village: The Chequers and The Bell.
Returning to the footpath I skirted around Westoning Stud Mews and enjoyed watching some horses being exercised. Just after this again the area around the footpath became overgrown. My way was blocked completely at one point but I was fortunate in being able to negotiate around the overgrown area.
After passing the Lady Astry Charity strips (the rent of which was left by Lady Astry to provide bread for widows in the area) the leaflet takes you briefly back along the lane and then follows a footpath back to Harlington Wood End. Rain was threatening (the cows were right) and so I took care crossing back over the A5120 and returned into Harlington along Westoning Road.
An enjoyable walk, although somewhat overgrown in places at this time of year. It was made much more interesting by the sight of the old maps showing how the area used to be. I felt solitude whilst walking in the fields and could almost imagine the mediaeval yeomen and sixteenth century aristocrats around me. I had not been out walking since completing my Pilgrims’ Way trek and so for me this was somewhere different to explore and stretch my legs.
Details: “Wood End Trail; Footpath Guide 3”. I obtained my copy of the leaflet from Harlington Heritage Trust. The leaflet also states that copies are available from the Parish Clerk. I cannot find a downloadable copy on the internet, but will update these notes should I become aware of one.
So I returned home to my Harlington home after walking the Pilgrims’ Way from Winchester to Canterbury. I promised to post a few thoughts about how I felt returning and adjusting back to “normal” life and these few words are a short and temporary effort at doing that.
It is difficult to write because at present if I look back on my old blogs and pictures from a couple of weeks ago I am filled with that overwhelming sweet but sad nostalgic feeling that I get from looking at childhood pictures of my son. What a wonderful blessing he was (and is!) but how quickly did the time go. How, in so many ways, do I long to experience it all again. And yet, of course, I know that cannot be. So at present it hurts to look at the old posts, yet I know in time that I will be so glad I kept the record; both for myself and hopefully for my forthcoming grandchild to look at one day in the future – because it was quite an adventure!
Several things were not mentioned in my posts (and I will in time go back and amend them slightly, because I would like to expand them, and turn them into a book – my posts were just a precis of all I experienced). Most importantly that there were two occasions in particular when I got badly lost. I did not write this at the time because I knew that there were people back home worried about me. But on both occasions (one of which involved me walking an additional five miles), someone turned up to show me the way. At one stage I did know where I was (a long way off trail!) and I found myself on a road it was dangerous to walk along, so I flagged a lady down – her home happened to back onto the North Downs Way, so she gave me a lift back to safety. I did not tell her a lot about myself but amazingly she happened to tune in to the “Ramblings” programme and recognised me as the lady she had assisted and tracked me down and e mailed me. I was then able to thank her again properly!
I have for five years had faith in something “out there” much more powerful than myself, that I choose to call God. This pilgrimage has increased my faith a millionfold . Everytime I needed help someone turned up; I met people who told me inspirational stories and passed messages on to me; I met people I was able to listen to and talk to and hopefully inspire and help as well.
I felt a strong sense of history and that I really was travelling along old paths and in others’ footsteps (this has so far stayed with me); so has the strong sense and connection to the power of Nature. It may sound silly, but what complete joy and freedom I felt those days I was singing with the birds. I am much more comfortable in my own skin and in the nicest possible way, really do not care what others think of me, providing I am trying to progress spiritually. I feel more “authentic”.
On several occasions I was outside of what I thought was my comfort zone – crossing the Medway Bridge; negotiating fields of cattle alone; flagging a lady down; asking proprietors for help with Wi Fi and using different keys in different locks; facing dark woods alone; telling someone I had broken their curtain rail; I couldn’t get the bath water out the bath in another place; some navigating without a map! – but each time I faced the fear and got through it and that has increased my confidence no end.
I have noticed a difference in the passing of time. The days are going much quicker at home. I think that is because I was living very much in the present moment in my own company, whilst walking. The meditative quality of walking, particularly alone, day after day, concentrating on the route and all my surroundings and experiences really did take me to a state of connection. It is a wonderful way to live.
So at present I have trust, faith, lack of fear, and an increased physical fitness! I pray never to lose these (well, maybe the fitness a bit!). I think I am still processing some of the experience and I am certainly changed. It will be interesting to revisit these thoughts in another six months. I am sure that another adventure awaits but I have yet to feel led to the appropriate challenge. Despite the nostalgic feelings described above, I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to mark my five years of recovery, to raise some money for Mencap and to have a wonderful home and husband to come back to in this beautiful village. Blackberry crumble in the oven!
I started the final day of this gratitude pilgrimage of walking the Pilgrims’ Way very early. I wanted to make the most of every second of this day.
A few miles out of Wye, I soon entered the 5,000 acre Kings Wood. Pilgrims would have congregated together before entering the wood so they could pass through the place in company as it was notorious for robbers and vagabonds. Today I was alone but for several roe deer and some pheasants. Until I smelt a delicious smell of cooking. It was coming from some lads who had cycled up from Wye.
Through gaps in the trees I had glorious views over Godmersham Park (where Jane Austen spent a lot of time – many of her novels are said to be inspired by “society” life here). I could see the Georgian Mansion in the distance. And then finally the moment I had heard about and been waiting for…….
A long, long way in the distance, but there it was, the place I had spent almost the last two weeks walking towards. You can just see it through a gap in the trees on the left.
This was my first “moment” of a very emotional day. Just as I was putting the tissue back in my pocket I received a phone call from a lady who calls me regularly and it reminded me what a blessing recovery is for both myself and others.
Hard on to the pretty village of Chilham. I didn’t have time to look closely at its castle and mansion and just took a quick picture by the statue.
And on up to Old Wives Lees. I had read the names of these villages many times over and it was great to finally pass through them.
The Pilgrims’ Way went on past the early Iron Age hill fort of Bigbury Camp, I reached Chartham Hatch and finally Harbledown. This was nicknamed “Bob-up-and-down” in Chaucer’s “Manciple’s Tale Prologue”……”Ther stant a litel toun Which that y-clepped is Bobbe-up-and-down, Under the Blee in Caunterbury weye.”
I had been making good time and somehow didn’t want to enter back into “reality”. I found myself walking up a lane right alongside the noisy A2. I realised then how close I was to Canterbury and stopped to appreciate the lane and birdsong and the leaves beneath my feet. Almost two weeks had passed since the start of the walk – although the weather had been so summery it was now definitely Autumn; I had witnessed the changing of the seasons at firsthand. The noise of the road didn’t bother me. I switched off and took in the ground beneath me.
And so, to leave the rural landscape I had been immersed in for so long and start to enter the built up area of Canterbury through St Dunstan’s. There is so much history to read around The Well of St Thomas, the leper hospital, and the church of St Nicholas on approaching Canterbury and also Canterbury itself that there is not space to post about it here. I would recommend C J Wright’s Book “A guide to the Pilgrims’Way and North Downs’ Way” . Just as I was walking along the approach road to the centre of the City, who should pull up alongside me but T offering me a lift (he had made good time from Harlington). I declined the offer!
I went into St Dunstan’s Church and stayed a while and prayed. I took off my socks and boots.
Walking the last half mile to the Cathedral I was oblivious of the people around. I turned down Mercery Lane, saw the Cathedral Gate and sobbed in Gratitude.
I was very fortunate to arrive in time for Evensong, which I attended with T. I felt very privileged to be sitting so near to the Choir. The music was beautiful. I was mentioned by name at the start of the service, which I had not expected. The general hymn which was sung was “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, forgive our foolish ways”. This is the hymn which Pearl, our organist at St Mary’s Harlington played at my request when I first took Holy Communion. (T tells me that when he arrived the busker outside the Cathedral was singing “Desperado” by “The Eagles” (the words to which I had stuck up on my bedroom wall as a teenager)).
After the service Canon Clare (who I had met before) took me to Chapel of Our Lady Undercroft. We chatted about the pilgrimage and prayed together. I felt incredibly humbled and privileged.
And so it finished. I haven’t quoted Hardy yet (except on the “Ramblings” programme !) and I am rather obsessed with him! So it must be about time:
“Well, it came to an end; Quite silently – stopped without a jerk; Better close no prevision could lend; Working out as One planned it should work, Ere it came to an end.” (T Hardy)
And it seemed fitting to end with this:
“The people who are in the mad rush today, increasing their wants, senselessly suppose that they are enhancing their importance and real knowledge. A day will come when they will exclaim: “What have we been doing?” One after another many civilizations have risen, flourished, declined and disappeared, and in spite of their big boast of human progress, I am inclined to ask: “To what end all this? What’s the purpose? Darwin’s contemporary, Wallace, has said that despite the various discoveries and inventions during the last fifty years the moral height of man hasn’t increased even an inch. Tolstoy has said the same thing. Jesus, Buddha, Prophet Mohammed, all have said the same thing”. Mahatma Gandhi.
During the next week I will be posting my reflections on my pilgrimage and how I have adapted back into daily life. To anyone who has not yet sponsored me and wishes to do so can I please remind you of my Just Giving link (click here). The Mencap Summer Club is wonderful fun for the children, helps the parents and gives great experience to the teenage volunteers. I have been so privileged to do just a little to raise some money for this charity.
I thank everyone who has read my posts, commented on them, phoned me, sent me texts, walked with me, given me gifts, donated to Mencap, to Derek Bright of Walk Awhile (my guardian angel for the last two weeks), to James for his technical expertise, to those who have remembered me in their prayers – you have all carried me. God Bless you all xx
For Trevor: My Heart, My Soul and My Blood. Thank you. x
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