Monday, 17 May 2010

The Walk 2010, Part Two: Inkpen to Great Bedwyn

Fortified by the thought of underground seditionary activity in the southwestern reaches of Berkshire, as evidenced by Red Andy’s note, we set forth towards the great buttress of Inkpen Hill, about a mile away, and teeming, it would seem, with starlings or midges or perhaps crows gathering to feast on the carcasses of exhausted middle-aged men.

We had already seen several deer on the previous day. Today, set back from the pack by the need of a piss. I saw a large deer standing as still as a cutout about thirty yards away from me, among some rather junior looking trees (young birches?) He stared in my general direction as I stared at him. Odd how incapable one feels of catching the moment properly, even while it is happening. It seems such a privilege, and casual somehow to simply move on. I simply moved on and caught up.

We slanted up the steep hill, beneath the weirdly silent, pterodactylian hang-gliders (not midges, starlings or malevolent crows) that must have been up there from early morning. How do they not entangle one another? And they are silent of course because they go with the wind, unopposing.

It was a good day, lots of interesting clouds and cloudlets (AK particularly taken with one little one after two pints of Adlestone’s at lunch-time) and we made our way as far west on the ridge as we could before descending gently onto the plain and the Roman Road that leads into Wilton, accompanied on our right by a windmill atop a hill of preposterously yellow rape.

Ploughman’s Lunch all round in Wilton, at The Swan, a proper, unpretentious pub with the kind of landlady who will one day be old enough for one to imagine her having been there since, say, 1734. Properly boozed for our time in life (two pints at lunchtime) we strolled in the afternoon sun over the hill and down to the canal. We stopped to watch a long boat come through a lock and discussed the physics involved. We stopped again at ‘Mike’s house, a lock cottage where RR had spent much time as a small child and then a few holidays as a father with small children. MDF stripped off (see previous walks) for a dip in the canal and we all laughed and Mrs Mike brought him a cup of tea.

On, then, to Great Bedwyn. I went into the church, where a much-blotched woman with two sticks and a quite incredible slowness of pace, as well as an irresistible jollity, pointed out various features of interest, not least an effigy of “Henry the eighth’s father-in-law”. A window full of heraldic devices had been put in close by, having been saved from the destruction of nearby Wolf Hall.

The Cross Keys was a pub of total and completely undesigned simplicity. Stuff simply had not been painted or repaired or updated. Run by Bruce and Sue (both of whom wore rugby shirts), Bruce had a side line in repairing canal boats. From one of these boats he had to transport a bed for MDF. And then MDF didn’t want the bed, because he was going home, so Bruce had to take the bed back to the boat, but then MDF did want the bed because he wasn’t going home, and so Bruce had to fetch the bed again, and MDF helped Bruce unload it, and then, life being what it is, I had to sleep on it, and I would have done better on the floor with a sleeping bag and an old iron gate.

Skittles were drawn, although MDF and I were plainly the best team, supper was filling (couldn’t finish a gloriously stodgy berry crumble and custard), and then we played Hearts. I shall record the scores, because posterity loves a stat. In reverse order: SP -135, RR – 101, AK – 35, WW -31, SAF 0. What a master. I would have liked to have seen him go up against MDF, a man I have known for forty years. I have never seen him lose a game of cards except against my children (they hold on to that knowledge, as to a special stone found on a holiday beach). But MDF, defeated by the day and perhaps the knowledge of an imminent return to his own young children, had retired. To sleep in my bed. And leave me his.

The night passed. In between being penetrated by the springs of my zombie-mattress I was attacked by MDF with a pillow, to stop me snoring. On the first occasion I awoke at this, certain that some supernatural force had been at work. I spent fifteen minutes reminding myself that I was a rational being.

In the morning it was raining. We counted ourselves very clever for having, for once, avoided rain in May. SP and RR went west, and the rest of us sped back to London, talking about Alzheimer’s and War. SAF and I were dropped off at Acton Central. Our friends departed before we realised that the station was closed. We made our way to bustling Ealing Broadway and tubed home to face each his own domestic duties.

Once again RR had organised us and led us from pub to pub to pub to pub to pub in a quite delicious meander through the English countryside. The poor bugger’s knee was giving out, but he despises pain and hardship and whingeing (though he has no tolerance whatsoever for dogs), and he remained and remains our dynamo. Many many thanks, as ever.

Much missed were MH and TC, and it ought to be added that RR was far from being the only no-whinger, AK having only recently recovered from a gall bladder operation. KBO chaps.


  1. Lovely stuff. (Though I think the pub was 'undesigned'.)

    That AK sounds like a nice chap - brave too.

  2. The pub has been properley redesignated. And i ought to have added that we were very sorry to see GOB go a night early (he had tickets for SRB in 'The London Apprentice', a show apparently not to be missed). He had infact arrived a night early having cycled from Windsor to great Bedwyn along the canal. Magnificent stuff.