Friday, 27 July 2012

Thou Shalt Find a Way

Thwarted in my attempt to reach a refuge of salvation, at this crucial point on my epic trek across the Wilds of deepest Hertfordshire, I awaited a Miracle.

Ok guys, bear with me, it was a field of in-traversable rape seed and I was trying to get to a pub. For the benefits of this blog I invite you to show a robust willingness to suspended your disbelief. And you will need it if you are going to believe this next bit, but i assure you it is all absolutely true. Staring around me at this expanse of slowly undulating, green and yellow field, I saw my Saviour. The capital letter is no typo.

Here I was rejoined by same follicley-blessed Nature Guru who thought it prudent to sidestep my companionship no more than a couple of hours earlier. He stood at the side of the field, a stones throw away, staring intently across to the other side. His quaff of shaggy, greying hair and wise-long beard swayed in harmony with field. Slowly, and with great ceremony, the Journeyman raised his arms high above his head, palms held outwards. His beard moved and looked like he was mouthing some words. At that moment, I-kid-you-not, the wind picked-up very suddenly. I was buffeted by strong gusts which made me check my footing. Out on the field, a dozen, turbulent swirls danced about, as the wind grew ever stronger. On a journey that had been, up to now, wind-free, I was astonished at this spontaneous phenomenon that was now whipping about me, but not as astonished as I was to see The Guru stepping purposefully forwards, into the field. I could only see his head and arms, now, above the height of the crop. How was it possible that he was able to do this? Did he possess Moses-like powers that allowed him to part the field at His will.

I quickly made my way to the place where I saw him enter the field. For the life of me I could not see a gap in the wall of green. Looking up I could only see his mop like head, like a dark, shark fin moving stealthily though water. I looked closely, again, at the mass of green. Then I saw it. There was an area of bare earth beneath a section of the field, which meant that here you could get a firm footing. This must have been how he did it. In a similar fashion to he, but with various, profanities as my spellbinding-words, I raised my forearms into a snow plough style, with hands clasped together in prayer and plunged forward into field. The thick crop resisted, but, mercifully, gave way as I pushed my way through. Using his distant Afro as a direction point, I continued to push my way forward through the field, along this slightly less-dense strip. In this way, and with great relief, I eventually emerged out the other end. Exhausted and entirely alone.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Ooh my John Bunyans

Beneath goal posts, in the very centre of empty playing field, I rested. I thought that being as far away from human contact as possible would allow me to take stock of my journey so far. I had been walking for a good 6 hours. I eased myself slowly onto the grass feeling about 10 years older and removed my boots. My legs and feet were certainly starting to ache. Sitting alongside my steaming boots I ate the rest of my wife's meatballs, why does that sound so odd? I wiped my hands and face with kitchen roll and some water and took out my mobile. The phone was dead and, so with it, went gps app, that had proven so useful so far. There was nothing left to do but to get out the good, old fashioned map and compass. If I was ever going to make it as a true, authentic, traveller, worth his salt, I was going to have to get re-aquatinted with traditional methods. I was not too concerned, as I had had a spell in the territorial army during my college years and quickly recalled how to orientate myself. I was, I estimated, halfway through my journey and at the furthest point I was going to reach this day. My swelling feet were in entire agreement that it was time to think about heading home. I was keen to take a different route back, if only just to see some new sights along the way. My spirits were still high, despite my terrifying, recent brush with the bush and feeling reinvigorated by my wife's meatballs ( what the..?!) I was determined to enjoy the rest of my trek, to the max. I discovered a trail on the map called the John Bunyan Trail that headed in generally the direction I wanted to go. I was later to discover why it was given this odd name. Yes, that's right. I have finally given the outcome of my journey away, by revealing that I did, indeed, make it back safely home and did not meet any sticky end, like being dragged into a bunny hole by a rabid, were-rabbit. It was not possible to keep you in suspenders forever. The John Bunyan Trail was created by a Bedfordshire Group to celebrate the Ramblers Association's Diamond Jubilee and is dedicated to the memory of John Bunyan, the Puritan Evangelist and author of the book 'Pilgrim's Progress'. The route passes through a number of attractive villages and scenic countryside, taking in many places of historic interest connected with Bunyan. Following the route closely would take me though the villages of Hexton and Pirton and eventually bring me back to Hitchin at its east side . Walking at a steadier pace now I followed a path that ran parallel to the B655, or the Hexton Road, that becomes the Barton Road, that becomes the Hitchin Road depending on whereabouts you are on it. It was about half a mile away. The fields on this side of the road were flat and spoilt slightly by the pylons that seemed to surround it. Thus far, I had travelled on my own, but now behind me there seemed to be someone walking my way that I thought it would be worth getting to know. He was a man in his 50s, I guessed, and he had bright but well lived-in eyes. To be fair I was making assumptions as there were the only identifiable features I could see of his face. Most of it was obscured by long, course and bushy, dark and greying hair that seemed to grow, in abundance, from every follicle that it might be possible to grow hair from. My spider-sense was tingling in a positive way. It was telling me at here was a man who had turned his hairy nose up at a conventional, 9 to 5, urban life and had chosen to spend as many of his waking hours as possible being in and around and, by the looks of him, possibly under, Nature. He had well worn walking boots, long camo-print shorts and an, only slightly offensive, mustard coloured long sleeve top. Around his neck hung a small pair of binoculars. My spider-sense was not telling me 'serial killer', although, to be fair, it had been wrong in the past. No, clearly, here was a travelling-Pro. One of life's Journeymen, with countless tales, no doubt, of a life on the trail. A companion of nature, with many a yarn and tale of long journeys, in all weathers, to all places and, today, the perfect traveling companion to share the next few miles with. With a greeting ready on my lips, something original, on the lines of ,'Are you going my way', I turned to see him stepping off the track and into the next field. Gutted. He had clearly smelt Green-horn, Newbie and was not interested in sharing his special time in nature with a chattering Padawan. I understood, yes it stung, but I understood. Oddly, the two of us spent the next couple of hour or so walking side by side, but on parallel paths, perhaps 500 meters apart. After an hour or so, a man and his son, who was perhaps 14, cycled past me on the path. It was another hour before I saw them again at the edge of a huge field of rape seed. I checked my map and discovered that the John Bunyan trail followed the outside edge of this field and it was from this direction that I saw the man and his son, again, pushing their bikes. As they approached the man called to me. 'There's no way through that way, mate'. He was out of breath and paused briefly in front of me. 'We came this way two months ago and it was no problem. The rape was low then, but now it's over-grown the entire path'. The rape seed was indeed incredibly dense stuff. Nothing like the illusion of fluffy, yellow fields we see from the roadside. The seeds themselves looked like thin, green chilli peppers clinging to tall creeping stalks, which, when knitted together, were entirely impassable, and would have resisted a stampede of elephants ; no matter how hard you pushed into it, it only gave so much and then sprung right back at you. I tried this a couple or times, as the forlorn figures of the two cyclists cycled slowly away back down the path path we had both travelled on . Looking around me, it was clear that the field was immense, in order to circumnavigate all this they would need to go for a mile, or so, i was sure. Easier to do on a bike, but my feet and calves were now really aching and i was in serious need of a sit down, and, if the map was true to it's key of symbols, that cold pint! The thought of an extra trek, off the beaten track, in search of a way around all this, that i may, or may not, find, filled me with despair. What made things worse was that looking across the field, which was a sea of green, I could make out a small group of buildings. I was convinced that the largest of the buildings was pub shaped. So near and yet so far. I was in need of divine inspiration. On a day that I felt that I had bared my soul and challenged my spirit, in the full glare of all nature, I felt it just, that a morsel of divine inspiration was granted me... and then it arrived. And on biblical proportions.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Dangerous descent

After some glorious views of the Barton Hills I descended down them through a wood area which did not allow for any further views of the beautiful vistas. This disappointed me somewhat. The path was gradual and my progress was slowed. Too gradual and too slow for my newly discovered spirit of adventure, so I decided it might be a good idea to go off-road and head straight down the hillside, you know , as time saver?

 At the edge of the path there were two large bushes with feathery leaves. The gap between them look navigable and I was sure that I was almost at the bottom. Carefully, I stepped off the path walking side ways down the steep, but manageable, gradient. I moved through the bushes and discovered a wall of dense-looking foliage a little way down. I decided this was not such a good idea after all and attempted to make my way back up the bank, but, try as I might, I could not reverse my momentum, which was inescapably, downwards.

With the soft, muddy underfoot offering little in the way of traction, gravity was having the best of it and I was being pulled, tractor-beam like, down into the wall of bushes. It was then that I had my second bad idea of the day. I have always found that , like buses, they often come in twos for me. And this one would prove to be a doosie!

It was time to think rationally about the whole situation. To allow common sense and instinct to guide me. Thinking that a little speed might help me break through this barrier that faced me, but with the bushes offering enough resistance to exit the other side at a crawl, I picked a soft looking spot in the undergrowth and threw myself forward... The sound of snapping twigs sounded loudly around my ears as the foliage gave way. I ungracefully exited the other side of the bush at a tremendous speed and, now, I was on on my bottom. Walking boots and grasping hands proved unless at slowing me down, try as I might , and hurtled down the steepening muddy bank. With frantic curses my only means of protection, I plummeted through several groups of thickets where thorns and twigs tore at my clothes and scratched at my face. Entirely unable now to control the rate of my decent, I slip-slid my way downward, on and on. It was a white knuckle, brown-trousered decent from hell and, probably, to hell, for all I knew and an experience I would never want to repeat again.

With one final, foul-mouthed, shout-curse to all of Mother Nature and her doing's and the evil forces of Brian Cox and his gravity ideas, which had, thus far in my journey, pretended to be my companion, only to betray me now, I came to an abrupt stop!

 I opened my eyes to see a young boy of eight, or so , and a younger girl, who I presumed to be his sister, both holding small fishing nets on long sticks. They were wellied and standing in a small river. Their faces looked surprised to see me, but that was nothing to how the lady standing with them was looking me. They must have all bared witness to the human avalanche that had just crashed, snapped and cursed his used way down the hillside right at them. Now this filthy creature, for her face told me that she thought of me as nothing more, was sitting in a heap infront of them, covered head to toe in mud, leaves and blood.

Fearing for the safety of her young, she pulled the two children towards her and away from me. I can't of helped matters as I stood up and, feeling pains shooting through the muscles in both legs, I let out an unearthly groan. They visibly recoiled . I immediately tried make amends by offering some kind of explanation to them but, probably due to the trauma I was suffering after my dangerous decent, I could only make a series of incompressible grunts and gurgles with an outstretched, pleading hand that was disfigured by soiled leaves, a large spider and a centipede.

It must have been hideous for the poor family that stood, huddled, trembling in silence, to witness this gruffaloick monster retreating heavily away, into the trees, embarrassed and hampered by two huge, round clods of dark-brown clay encasing each of his feet.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Zippedee Doo Dar

I was soon surrounded by fields, following a track and feeling, all at once, one with nature. There were rabbits playing in the path in front of me, startled pheasants darting around in the fields to the side of me and sweetly singing birds all around me. My God, but I swear I had Bing Crosby walking along side me singing Zippedee Doo Dar. It was euphoric.

 The miles went by and my pace and smile didn't slacken. I saw wild deer standing alert in the centre of a field. Big ones, not the small Monk Jacks I was used to seeing in and around the towns. They eyed me cautiously as I wandered by.

Less beautiful, but no less fascinating was a skull and backbone of an small animal laying on the path. There was no evidence that it been dinner for some predator, but it had been cleanly stripped of any fur and tissue. The bones were pinky white, intact and totally fly-free. I stopped briefly and examined them closely. In fact, I take it back, it was beautiful in a, ' isn't Mother Nature bloody awesome?' kind of a way.

 The feeling of being entirely humbled by nature continued strongly in me. There were fields bursting with wild daisies, dazzlingly bright, yellow, rape-seed fields, huge old gnarly trees, that you just know have been standing for hundred's of years, as centennials watching over the slowly evolving landscape. If they could only talk ,eh?

 I started to pass by some early-morning dog walkers and some out doing what I was doing, dog-free. It is amazing how friendly people are out in the countryside. I shared a few heart-felt pleasantries with them like, 'Glorious isn't it?' and 'Beautiful day ' and a simple, but no less pleasant, ' Morning'. Why do we feel at ease being so cheery out here when people are generally ignorant of each other on the street? When we pass people, sometimes it's people we see quite regularly from time to time, we act like they don't even exist? The endorphins have something to do with it out here, of course, but really, how sad.

 I eventually reached my goal, not that I had planned my journey carefully, but I knew I was heading to a glorious bit of the local countryside, the Barton Hills. Hertfordshire is generally not known for it's bumpy bits, which is probably fair as it is generally flat as a table, but the grassy undulations of the Barton Hills are well worth experiencing.