Saturday, 3 December 2016

Day three... and the accident

Well, without question, today was tough. My task was to walk from Stanwick to Fortheringhay, and I completely underestimated the river meanders, and, well, pretty much everything else. But I made it.

I'm sitting by a lovely open fire in the Falcon Inn. It is toasty warm and entirely empty and silent, so my eyes keep closing. The charming bar lady has just put extra logs on the fire and is under strict instructions to wake me up if I nod off before the chef arrives at six. 

I woke up surprisingly refreshed at Chris' B and B. Bizarrely, the words "Jodrell Bank" were, once again, the first to go through my head. Is anyone familiar with Jodrell Bank? Is anything strange going on there at the moment?

Chris served me a wonderful cooked breakfast, and cheered me up no end by telling me my old school isn't actually in special measures. A relief.

My walk began alongside a dual carriageway as I inched myself back to the river. The Nene Way instantly did one of its special tricks and vanished up a hill towards a village I had no interest in visiting. The signs for the walk had also been uprooted so I was trying to line up my map of the Nene Way with my phone's GPS and failing miserably. The Nene Way is woefully under-signposted in these parts and to add a whole new aspect of frustration, all sorts of other public footpaths ARE indicated with generic green signs, which include some for the Nene Way itself. It's ludicrously confusing and highly frustrating.

I decided to follow the Nene Way into the village of Woodford, fancying a trip up there, having read up about the fascinating church. On my way up to the village, as so often happens, the path passed through a farm yard. I think farmers move the signs to dissuade walkers from passing through their land. A generic green footpath sign, just before the farmyard, sent me over a stile into a field which didn't seem to have an exit.

As I walked up to it, I could see a group of men of varying ages all wearing wellies and carrying guns, standing in the farm yard. I went as near to them as the field would allow, and asked if they could indicate where the path to Woodford was. One of them pointed back at the farmyard and said "we get a few walkers coming through there. I'd hop over the fence if I were you and head in that direction."

A small crowd of them gathered and watched as I climbed the fence like an old man because I was so stiff. What I wasn't expecting was for the top rung of the fence to be rotten and give way just as I put all my strength on it. I tumbled six feet onto my back, fortunately slightly cushioned by my rucksack, which only has soft things inside, but I caught the back of my shin and ankle on another one of the fence rungs and have bruised myself so badly that I'm scared of waking up and putting pressure on it. I was also really shocked. The men looked at me worriedly and asked if I was okay. I stood up and nodded. "I don't know about the path to Woodford" one said, "we might have to get you the ambulance there..." I hobbled off pretending to laugh out of embarrassment. I later discovered that my trousers had split on all seams around the gusset. Brilliant, but when you're as exhausted as me, dignity is merely a concept.

I limped up to Woodford and visited the church, where there's a mummified heart in a glass recess in one of the pillars which they think belonged to a crusader. Creepy.

There's also a very curious framed photo in the corner of the church where children are encouraged to play. The photo shows a ghost... apparently; a blurry, kneeling figure at the alter, which I assume was a cleaner the vicar didn't notice when he took the long-exposure picture!

I heading back to the Nene and stood staring into a weir for some time. It was at that moment that I realised the musky perfume smell I kept experiencing yesterday is actually the smell of Nene water rushing over an underwater ledge. There will be a scientific reason for the smell, but its intoxicating and beautiful... and I would wear it if it could be bottled. What would we call it? "Nene Foam" "Murky Waters"?

There are an astounding number of red kites in these parts, which appear to have a very distinctive call. The sound of swans flying is even weirder! It sounds like the noise your heart sometimes makes in your ears. A rushing, 1980s synth-drum noise not far from the sound they used on Pigeon Street, but subtler!

I diverted into Islip, having run out of water, but discovered the only shop there is a curiously bustling hair salon, so I went in and asked the girl behind the counter if she'd fill me up. As it were...

These walks are always lovely until lunch time, when there's a sudden panic about reaching the destination before it gets dark. It's like a sort of lottery. A race with the inevitability of nature. Will I end this walk on main roads because I can't walk along a muddy river bank at night?

And at lunch today, I was only about a third of my way to Fotheringhay. The weather did its best to gee me up. I was walking through a beautiful water meadow and the sun suddenly came out, making the straw-coloured reeds light up. I was revelling in the moment and then I tripped over a huge dead, semi-eaten fish, which I assume had been dropped there by a big old bird.

So I made a decision to walk the five miles to Oundle along a (relatively direct) local road, which seemed to last an eternity. I got faster and faster, determined to make Oundle before sunset, with Nathan telling me that I was "just over half way" to Fotheringhay! I'm afraid I had underestimated the distance between Oundle and Fotheringhay as well.

I was thirsty. None of the villages I passed through has a shop. Well, one does, in Aldwinkle, but it required customers to ring a doorbell, which was unanswered. My feet trudged along. I sent shirty texts to Nathan. It was horrifying. I found a pub and the lady behind the counter filled up my bottle. I took two Nurofen and took off like a rocket.

I made Oundle very quickly. Upping my average mph from just below three to just over four. (I have an app: today I've walked 23 miles and burned off 3000 calories...)

Oundle is a wonderfully familiar little town. We used to go there to take part in the annual music festival. I always got beaten by a girl whose mother was on first name terms with the judges.

It smelt of wood smoke, and, as I entered the town I could hear a distant rugby match on the breeze. Arriving was a massive weight off my mind.

I walked through the town centre and was thrilled to find a Christmas Fair. The atmosphere was wonderful. I had a rush of happiness and bought myself a tiny bauble, which I doubt will find its way back to London! I bought a needle and thread from the knitting shop and the lady gave me a home-made jam tart which made me feel hugely emotional.

As I left the shop, the Nassington brass band struck up, playing a medley of carols which made me feel so happy. What an astounding sonic experience for a man writing a composition - particularly as I already know a brass band will be part of the performer lineup. I have decided to keep the band from appearing in the piece until the section pertaining to Oundle. So if you find yourself listening and waiting for the brass band, you'll know why.

The four miles from Oundle to Fotheringhay lasted an eternity. My legs seized up and my metal state collapsed.

The only thing I could think to do was play ABBA on my iPhone. I listened to a lovely selection of songs and cried my way through all of them. I cried because I couldn't believe that the music from a single band could have had such long-lasting (life-long, in fact) importance. I cried because Frida has such a lovely voice. I cried because I was in pain. And I cried because I was lonely. And at the end of all that I felt much better! It's ludicrous: nothing prepares you for the physical and mental trauma you go through on one of these endurance missions. Plainly, on a normal day, I wouldn't cry at the thought of the beauty of Frida's voice, but when you're trudging along a road or a river bank, all bets are off!

Tonight I watch Strictly whilst sewing up my trousers!

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