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