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.

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