2020

Day 8 – The Beating Heart of England

Bourton-on-the-Water to Chipping Camden

I stayed last night at The Manse Hotel in Bourton-on-the-Water. It’s a Greene King and excellent. My room over looked the water and was a generous touch of luxury after the appalling Punchbowl in Woodstock. I woke up several times during the night with a dry hacking cough and checked availability for the next two weeks but I was fine this morning.

I was better than fine. I had a splendid breakfast. A charming Hungarian waitress helped me with the menu. Apparently I’d paid for breakfast so I could have anything I wanted. I wanted a pear and she brought me one. Cereal and yoghurt, yes sir. Scrambled eggs? With “smoked sall-mon”? Yes please. Tea with lemon? Toast, marmalade….

It was training day for a new starter and my waitress explained the intricacies of determining whether a guest has prepaid for breakfast. I had the impression that the new starter, under normal circumstances, might have been starting a graduate fast track programme in the City. I reflected on my time as an assistant caretaker in Queen Elizabeth’s Girls School in Barnet after I graduated in 1977.

So far, I’ve been heading WNW from Weybridge but now I’ve finished the Oxfordshire Way and this morning I started the Heart of England Way heading due north to Lichfield. It starts in Bourton-on-the-Water and I was expecting a big banner showing Richard the Lion Heart, St George and the dragon and all that sort of thing.

But no. It was a complete surprise. She’s a shy little thing. No signs or anything. She was hiding behind the Warden’s Way for awhile but when the Warden took off in another direction I was left alone. And then I saw her. She started as a little passageway beside a church. There was a new sign, almost hidden. I introduced myself and said I was going to Lichfield and she welcomed me. Off we set.

I fell in love with her at once. She’s such a girlie path. No garish signs or information boards. We travel together, hand in hand, and say sweet nothings as we go. There are lots of gates and she’s carefully written her name on every one, like a school girl does on her homework, “Heart of England Way”.

Her personality shone through. She wasn’t the sort of path to have a standard gate or style. Every one was different. Two steps then over. One step then over. A lever to pull, a lever to push. An obstacle course to squeeze through. Occasionally a fiddly latch or a hook to unhook. Sometimes a kinky little chain to loop over the post. Other times, some pink rope or yellow string. Once she had a little sadistic streak: she draped some bramble over the gate catch and I felt the pain as she yielded me into another field. She could please a walker forever.

After the disappointment of yesterday’s Cotswolds villages (I took those awful photos on purpose), she showed me some beautiful villages. She led me through the outrageously expensive Lower Slaughter and then Stow-on-the-Wold. We passed the Donnington brewery and then stopped for coffee in a Longborough pub. After that it was Bourton-on-the-Hill. I climbed the hill to reach the pub but it was not reopening until Wednesday. So we continued to Blockley where the pub was also closed with the virus but a cafe was open and doing a roaring trade with the Government picking up half the tab.

Far too soon, we reached Chipping Camden and I kissed the beating Heart of England goodnight as the rain lashed down but we didn’t care. She feels like a teen but she’s 30 this year. What a beauty! And you’re right. I never saw a soul all day. Just as well. I was back in the spring of 1971.

The Old Manse hotel

10 comments on “Day 8 – The Beating Heart of England

  1. Vicky W

    Kia ora, Tim, What a fascinating array of ‘gates’. Being a famer’s daughter I have an interest in gate styles. Your comment on the prickly bramble brought to mind 2016 on the VF where I broke off the soft ends of all the brambles along narrow ways so that people following me would not be impaled. However on the walk across Italy with my daughter in 2018 we took a short cut after losing the trail and got so tangled in brambles we were pulled out by a worried passing cyclist! Sticky tricky things, brambles. Ah, if only I could be rambling again. Keep taking all those photos because I love looking at the scenery which is mostly very different to what we see in NZ. Kia kaha, Vicky

    • Unforgiving things those brambles. Did you take any short cuts on Shikoku? How many snakes did you see on the short cuts?

  2. Miyuki

    It’s already 8 days! Lovely village and scenery. Must be wonderful walking through this beautiful part of England! I didn’t know you were working at QE!( although you said north London was your local) keep having a safe journey Tim San!

    • Hi Miyuki sensei, it’s beautiful here in the Cotswolds and I think it will be beautiful for the whole journey. I worked at QE Girls for 6 months in 1977 and it was the happiest time of my life in Barnet. My mother still lives in Barnet but lives in a care home now.’ Tim

  3. Jane Van Buren

    Chipping Campden was the starting point for our amazing 6 day trek through the Cotswolds 3 summers ago! Loved the gates- everyone unique!
    Stay safe my pilgrim friend.

    • Hi Jane I remember your trip in the Cotswolds. That was when you came over to tea. I hope you and the gang are all well and that we can all meet again soon. What times we had on the Camino!

  4. Judith Perry

    Following you every day. I’m not free to leave my province for western provinces without quarantining on return. Besides we cannot go on long treks here without full camping. I would have been walking in Scotland this summer, so I am following you with delight and envy.

    • Hello Judith, I’m very happy to hear from you and to have you on my journey. It’s 6 weeks and I hope I make it before the next lockdown. I know I’m incredibly lucky. I’m not trying to discover England or inform about the places I’m passing through. You love walking so you’ll probably understand what’s going on in my head. Hope it makes sense to you. Tim

  5. Oh how I would love to buy that little cottage in your photo! I like the description of your ‘girlie path’ looks like a beautiful walk.

    • Hi Jenny, they turned down my offer so it’s still available…😀

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