Sorry for long silence, lots been going on, but here we go again…
Day 241 to 243
Last week I walked to the village where I was brought up, stayed in the house where I took my first steps, slept next to the room where I was born…
Striding off from Oxford I covered 27 miles of byways, ripe with blossom, to reach Swanbourne, population 400 odd.
My first port of call was Pete, who I have known all my life. Now nudging 80, Pete is still as twinkly as ever. A Bernardo’s boy, who never met his parents, he has triumphed against all odds.
Starting out on the local fish and chip van, he became a highly respected shepherd for over 30 years, who I worked with back in my teens. I was a tragically inept tractor driver but loved doing the lambing with Pete, who tended his flock with pride at all hours, in all seasons, with help from his lovely wife, Brenda, and children, Raph and Rachel.
Now retired, and a grandfather many times over, he was, until well into his 70s, a keen parachuter, skier, microlighter and lawn mower collector. A gent, a trooper and one of life’s enthusiasts: a hero of mine.
After a great night’s sleep at The Old House, lots of family banter and a magnificent risotto cooked by niece, Rosie, I headed on east towards London.
More on this next time.
During my time in Oxford I walked by the Shark House and South Park, lit by a biblical sky and later the village of Marsh Gibbon, with its splendid duck signs.
I tested out a Jogpod, a large red capsule on wheels but, though a beautiful beast that would have been perfect for parts of Russia, I’m too much of a short arse to haul it across all the world. ‘Your gravity is all wrong, mate,’ as one friend tactfully put it.
So, good old Koko lives on, though I’ve also been testing some baby buggies (surprisingly apt for world walkers!).
Thanks so much to all those who attended my talk in Buckingham on May 16, over £700 was raised for the wonderful Puzzle Centre.
Day 244 to 246
The author and wanderer, Laurie Lee, proudly described his village as mapped by ‘roads innocent of petrol’ in his memoir, Cider With Rosie.
This was in the 1920s but I was amazed that from my childhood home, Swanbourne, to my sister’s house in London, there’s still many such rustic trails over the 60 odd miles.
Koko and I plundered through fields of yellow rape, traversed woods of oak and chestnut and yomped up the Pegsdon hills.
Yes, there was dense traffic too when we hit outer London but much of the route was soul chargingly fine.
My walk through England has been so different to the rest, in that I have often been pit stopping with friends and family.
In Pegsdon I stayed with my oldest school chum, Jules, his lovely wife, Mary, and daughter, Ellie.
Jules and I were 7 when we met at boarding school, nearly 45 years ago. We reminisced about being caned with a bamboo stave after sinking the school rowing boat (by mistake, honest!) and other youthful sins. Incredibly, when we looked back at black and white photos the names of class mates came magically pinging back, like lights on a museum map. A brilliant evening.
The following 23 mile day I reached the home of generous Chris and Trish in Brookman’s Park. Trish is the sister of my best mate, Jim, who I met aged 13, and have shared many adventures since. Another top evening, enlivened by a hedgehog sighting.
Jules, a father to three daughters, is now in a demanding London based job and Jim is helping care for his Mum near Romsey. I’m equally proud to call them both friends. So good, after time on the road, to be with people I’ve known forever, who I can trust completely, say anything – and laugh like a hyena.
Now, after a 15 miler through the London burbs, I’m excitedly lodged at the home of sister, Fan, and bro-in-law, Shaun, ready for my niece’s wedding this weekend. So happy for her. Must prepare speech! Tomorrow Eliza arrives for a week too. Joyous Dad! Lots on – talks, walks, visas, kit – before striking out on June 10 across London, then Europe. Koko!
Last few days.
My daughter, Eliza, in heaven holding, Theodora, alias Tedi, the newest member of the clan. Congratulations Bernadette and Ed, she’s a beauty!
Ed and Bernadette have taken to parenting with aplomb, Eliza has always been the baby whisperer but great uncle Tom (yikes, how old does that sound) is clearly out of practise.
What a time to be briefly back with the family, the joyous arrival of Tedi, followed by the joyous arrival of Eliza (at Heathrow!) followed by the joyous wedding party of my niece, Isabelle, and hubby, Jamie.
Wow, what a party, the wondrous, jungly setting enlivened by a beautiful church service; sweet peas and pomegranate trees; wild dancing to retro classics (Oh yeah…Everybody was Kung Fu Fighting!); delectable, blow your socks off tucker and cocktails hearty enough to make the blood fizz. Love and laughter all around.
Hats off Izzy and Jamie, for finding each other and sparking magic. You make the world a better place.
So happy Eliza was here to share it all. She leaves on Sunday and I walk off again from north London the day after, bound on foot for Istanbul.
Thanks so much to everyone who has helped with or attended my talks at The Old Thatched Inn in Adstock, The Betsey Wynne in Swanbourne and Wadhurst Community Hall and to Radio BBC Three Counties – and BBC Oxford. Your kindness has really given the three great charities a major boost. Sorry Swanbourne C of E School, I’ll be back – without an eye patch!
Thanks to my lovely sisters for driving me to and from A and E when I scratched my cornea on a rosemary bush, don’t ask. Well on the mend now.
Keep on Keeping On all and thanks so much for your support.