Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Down with Sergei and the Kool Kats

'On the road again' after the heat of last week and a tummy bug, although unlike Willie Nelson there's no band of jolly vagabonds to enliven the journey, even if 'the life I love' is indeed partly 'making music with my friends'. Yes, I know, that's the second country music reference in three posts. Enough already.

Ecton's a busy little village. The council tip is down towards the Nene, on the right after the bend, and the A45's noise is intrusive when the wind's from the south or the west. I walk down the single long main street past John Palmer's 18thC school and the little Free Chapel where Stephen Meakins used to host lovely and evocative Christmas concerts with the Laurence Lloyd Singers, later The Northampton Chamber Choir. I walk up the path following the signs to 'The Village Hall and Ecton Cricket Club'. I find the hall, and am eyed suspiciously by a lady coming out of the Play Group, but there's only a rough field where I think I once played cricket against the village team. I remember scoring a forty-odd that was worth at least half as much again. An absolutely clubbed shot along the ground into the lush grass would stop dead after about thirty yards. One run instead of four.

Ironically, because of the proximity of the council refuse facility, there's a lot of fly-tipping as the lane nears the A45, including what looks like a load of old asbestos. Watched by a curious buzzard, I climb over another pile of dumped rubbish and follow the old way across the flood plain towards the river. On the far bank above the mill is the church of St. Peter, Cogenhoe, pronounced 'Cook-know' to avoid betraying your non-local origins, or if you want to be really Old Skool, 'Cook-nuh'.

Outside the church someone is preparing to cut the grass. It's Eddie Smith, the vicar. He has responsibility for four churches in his benefice, and since two of them are Little and Great Houghton he's already had a card from me, so he knows the story. He asks me if I'd like to look inside St. Peter's. Of course I say yes please, and we chat briefly while he dismantles a projector screen left from yesterday's service. The church is light and airy, helped by the pale wood and pinky upholstery of the semicircles of chairs. Looking back from the altar, the bell tower is a high open inspiration. We agree that if the Puritans were good for anything it was leaving us whitewashed walls in this kind of building. Eddie isn't keen on what the Victorians bequeathed us in terms of the conventions of church architecture. I suppose I think of Liverpool's Anglican cathedral when he says that. Maybe Guildford too. But back to the last but one post: how do you signpost 'Hello we're Christians. Please come inside and see what we're doing'? The Pokémon Go craze is bringing mostly young people to look at the Weston Favell church, and apparently to Peterborough Cathedral too, but only because they're instantly recognisable. It's another matter entirely of course, what we should do with this unexpected windfall of interest.

I mention to Eddie that Sue and I had worshipped at the Cathedral yesterday, and had been gobsmacked to trip over the immediate consequences of a financial crisis there. Two statements were read: one from Charles Taylor, the Dean, announcing his resignation, and the other from the Bishop, saying that he was going to make a Visitation, and would reserve to himself the powers thereby entailed. We don't go to our diocesan Mother Church very often, but I shall miss the Dean's humour. Occasionally he could get it very wrong, but he had an entertaining way with the Gospel.

Down the accurately named 'Short Lane' is Cogenhoe's Pocket Park. The pond has been deepened and we are advised by a notice not to fall in. I first came across the little park many years ago when the rather sad headteacher of the school at which I then taught conceived the notion that the entire school should go on a ramble at the dog-end of the summer term. Amid many grumbles from the staff as well as the kids we all set off from the Billing Road on a sticky July day and made it as far as the fields at the back of Cogenhoe and the set of stone steps in the wood known as 'Jacob's Ladder' to the locals. It was not an experiment that was ever repeated.

On the way up to Brafield I skirt some wheat fields, now yellow with a tinge of green around their fringes. There seem to be a great  number of dog-walkers in Brafield. All the dogs are small and all are friendly. Their humans and I share that this is a perfect day for a stroll - sunny, dry, but not too warm. So numerous are the pooches, I wonder if this is a sort of Crufts on the move, but no, this is Monday morning and the dogs and owners are just working off the weekend's excess. St. Laurence's in the Lower End of the village is shut, so after a pause I head off to Denton across more fields of wheat, into which the good farmers have cut appropriate swathes to clearly mark the paths.

Approaching Denton from this side, you can just see the church tower nestled down in the dip where most of the village lies. I'm really hoping it will be open, because I know that it's filled with murals by the celebrated Northampton artist Henry Bird. The safety curtain at the Royal Theatre is perhaps his best known public work, shining out in amused fashion at ice-cream guzzlers and coffee slurpers during the intervals. I've seen the murals here once before, when I was inveigled into the annual Historic Churches Bike Ride, but that was before I started to take anything of an interest in the visual arts. I'm anticipating that I'll appreciate them differently and better now. But disappointment awaits. St. Margaret's of Antioch's is shut too, so I shall have to come back another time.

And who, you may be asking, was St. Margaret of Antioch? (No, I didn't know either!) Well, if she existed at all - at least one fifth century pope thought she was apocryphal - she died in 304 after persecution in her native Turkey. She's considered by some to be the patron saint of pregnancy. The best story about her is that she was swallowed by an angry Satan who came to her in the form of a dragon. The cross she was wearing irritated the dragon's stomach, so Margaret was spat out. In the Orthodox churches she's St. Marina, and there are 250 churches dedicated to her in the UK, including most famously, St. Margaret's Westminster.

I love the middle of Denton, and the best place to see it is from the deck of the Red Lion pub, which serves Luscombe's delicious ginger beer. As I sit and watch the world go by, four young women cheerfully carry enormous packs up the Northampton road, presumably on a D of E gold expedition. Either that, or they're masochists.

Via the 'Paradise Ponds' of the hamlet of Chadstone (presumably ancient fishponds serving a long-extinct monastic foundation, or perhaps the big house itself) I walk on past the long view of Castle Ashby and up the drive to its tea-room. We're season ticket holders here, and regard it as our other back garden, with an army of people to keep the plants and arboretum in perfect order, and meerkats to talk to during the summer. In winter the 'children's farm' (who are they kidding?) is closed, and we have to shout to the meerkats from a distance to reassure them all is well with the outside world.

As Sue discovered when she organised a Mothers Union outing to the tea-room earlier in the year, there are wrinkles about freedom of access around Castle Ashby. If you pay the appropriate fee you can get to the gardens and the church of St. Mary Magdalene from the tea-room. If you want to get to the church from the village side and without paying, it appears that with a bit of 'brass neck' you can walk across the façade of the house to do so - as the parishioners presumably do. But if you're a 'forriner' you may have to prove your holy intent to the house security staff, particularly if you're infirm enough to need vehicular assistance - Lord Northampton doesn't like anyone spoiling his view. Though, as Sue has proved, a small coach can make it to the church's car park with -ooh - at least a millimetre's clearance on either side.

The ecclesiastical geography around Castle Ashby explains too well for whom the church here once existed, and it never was for the working people or even the clergy. At Chadstone there's a large Old Rectory, but no church. Was there ever one there? Or has it been 'disappeared'? On holiday a couple of years ago near Alnwick in the North East, we stayed in a house whose owner had once arranged for a whole village to be moved lock, stock and fishing tackle to ease the building of his stately pile. There are examples of such clearances in Northamptonshire too. On the plus side, there's sufficient detritus on the floor of St. Mary Magdalene's to suggest that some of the many tourist visitors to the house make it inside the church. It's much better cared-for now than it used to be. It feels welcoming and friendly in the sunshine.

A late 19thC cleric was sadly killed in a bicycle accident on the road from Castle Ashby to Whiston in the course of his duties. I negotiate the road safely, although the rise of the wold on the approach to the church of St. Mary the Virgin turns out to be more substantial on foot than it is from the insulated womb of the German Car. A path veers away from the road towards the east wall of the church grounds. There I meet Nina with her children and a friend as they pick their way round the edge of a field of maturing (decaying!) rapeseed, and once we're over the stile and in the churchyard, I meet Nina's mum, Jean, who's the churchwarden at the elegant Whiston church (1534). Jean knew lovely Olive Thompson, one of our elderly parishioners in Weston Favell, who died earlier in the year. They'd volunteered together at the Cynthia Spencer Hospice. We agree that Olive was one of the sweetest and twinkliest people we'd ever met, and that we miss her very much.

Jean welcomes me into the church before leaving to spend time with her family. It's a place of many carvings and gargoyles, including the cat emblem of the Catesby family who originally endowed it. The Catesbys came in many varieties, and there'll be different tales to tell of the branch of the family which lived out west at Ashby St. Ledgers. But this eastern lot were Puritans and during the 17thC Whiston was probably something of a fire and brimstone place. The pews are wonderfully aged, although I'm not sure about their comfort-rating were the preaching to become prolix.

Some years ago down in the little village I saw the only adder I've ever encountered in Northamptonshire. It was dead, mind you, in fact rather rolled flat, but nevertheless definitely an adder, and I'm fairly sure it hadn't been placed there as a wind-up - unlike the tarantula I once found sitting on the counter of the now defunct Midland Bank in the Wellingborough Road. Gave me a bit of a shock though. And the bank clerk.

At this point I should probably have done the obvious thing and walked the shorter way back to Ecton. Instead I made foolish tracks towards Earls Barton, hedging my bets as to whether I'd finish the day with a visit to the great Anglo-Saxon church there, and thinking that I'd easily find the entrance to the field path that runs parallel to the main road back to Ecton. But energy ran out, so I decided to leave EB for another day. Then, without the relevant OS Explorer, I managed to miss the path. So the day ended with a long, hot and dusty trek beside the traffic. I'm slowly learning to find merit in any walk, but truthfully there wasn't much in this section, except the company of a couple of red kites. I've seen one go for a chicken before now. Sometime soon there'll be a silly season tabloid story about an attack on a human (as a variation on the usual gull meme). Not for this reason, but it was a relief to reach Ecton church and the car.

Stats man:  14 miles. 7.5 hrs. 21 degrees: beautiful walking weather. One great pub discovery. Three open churches (one assisted: thank you Eddie!) One church clock stuck on  mid-day. Lots of small dogs. Three red kites (when will they reach Weston Favell?).

Great Father of us all
Jesus commanded us to
'Judge not, lest we be judged'.
Sometimes I wonder then how
I can say anything at all?
Isn't all life judging?
When I'm driving
I need to assess
Whether the bloke in that car
Is off his head.
When I'm walking in the city
I need to be aware
Of who's walking too close behind me.
When I'm having breakfast
In Carluccio's
These days I'm waiting
For a shout of 'Allahu Akhbar'
And wondering exactly how
To hit the floor
When the moment comes.
So how do I not judge?
Give me grace, Father
To notice and not to criticise:
To see with discernment
And not routinely think ill of others:
To entertain by my words
But to do it in kindly fashion:
In fact to be a bit more like Olive.
I ask it in Jesus' name.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Hello! Who am I? What am I doing here?

Just to recap. My name's Vince Cross, and I'm doing a series of circular walks visiting every Anglican church in Peterborough diocese - at a rate of one walk every ten days so far. I'm about fifty churches into the adventure now (only about 350 to go!), and to read from the beginning, you'll have to scroll down to the bottom and look at each post in turn. Or if you're the kind of person who can cope with working in reverse, you can start here, challenge time's arrow and feel as if you're getting younger page by page.

My Main (and Only) Rule is that each walk has to start and finish somewhere on a previously described circle. Easier than being a Benedictine.

Each incumbent gets a card (probably courtesy of the Royal Mail) to say that I've been wandering around her/his churchyard or church, and that I've prayed for them and the congregation in that place. This is the front of the card they receive: it's a picture I took a few years ago in Lodz. The symbolism seemed to be right.

The purpose is to celebrate our oneness as Christians from different traditions, to say we are more joined than separated.

The blog is also something of an urban/pastoral idyll - a celebration of an English county at this time: the kind of thing a less grumpy Wainwright might have written if he'd liked walking on the flat.

Each post finishes with a prayer reflecting what I felt that day.

If you want to, please write to me at vincecrossmusic@gmail.com

Or if you want to know more about what I do, please visit www.vincecross.co.uk

If you want to use any of the material from this blog, I expect I'll be delighted. But just in case, please check with me first, as of course you would.

Joy in heaven

                                         A distant view of Piddington.

I pick my way through domestic Wootton in the direction of Grange Park. A neglected strip of woodland divides the two housing districts. In an untidy meadow I skirt a collection of travellers' horses. I'm always distrustful, particularly when like these they're untethered and there are foals, but this lot have their minds on a grassy breakfast and munch on, heads down.

On the other side of the woodland I'm staggered again by the sheer number of houses around me and their apparent lack of coherent aesthetic. I can sometimes see what the architect might have had in mind - an allusion to vernacular Northants three-storey cottages perhaps - but here, viewed from below by the stream, the effect is monumental, more Glasgow than Northampton. The mass of housing is so great that from a parish point of view and with August coming up fast, the Biblical expression about the 'fields being white unto harvest' springs to mind...which is what Grange Park Church is there to address from its 'Kairos Centre'. Since it's Monday morning, the coffee shop is open. Aneta serves me a Kit-Kat and a mug's worth. I chat to Jane and Lester. GPC is a 'fresh expression' running in tandem with the Baptists. (I remember that friends Kathy and Alan Patterson must be involved.) There's a lot of messy church being done: although a retirement village has opened close by, much of the local demographic is young. The vicar, Charlie Nobbs, has been at GPC for thirteen years but is moving off to a diocesan role down the Bedford Road at Bouverie Court, using his experience to foster other pioneering church projects. He's just been to the dentist round the corner (where the Crosses also go to see the excellent Mr Ghaffar) and has had some dismal news about a wisdom tooth. We chat. I put my foot in it by muddling up people we both know well and feel foolish. There's nothing so humbling as being dogmatically wrong. He doesn't hold a grudge and helps me plan my route out of the urban maze.

It's wonderful and important that people work with dedication bringing the Gospel to the attention of those living in places like Grange Park. But, I think to myself, I can readily identify the local school, and the local pub, and the local shops. How do I immediately know where the Christians are? Good publicity and visibly Christian lives are essential, but the Church needs help presenting itself to the passing community. I think we need recognisable buildings, and inside these buildings, helpful focuses of attention for worship. These fundamentals will hit us hard in the pocket, but to avoid being a remnant, we have to do this thing, if only the planners will let us.

Despite Charlie and Aneta's instructions, and mostly because quite stupidly I can't be bothered to retrieve a compass from the depths of my rucksack, I make an exit on the wrong side of the Country Park, and am paid out with a trudge round a field next to the M1. My consolation is a brief sighting of the rump of a deer as it bounds into the undergrowth, startled by my arrival. A path through what seem like back gardens takes one into Quinton. Hang on, this actually is someone's back garden, and very beautiful it is too: I missed the stile in the corner back there!

After I became a full-time musician, Sue and I briefly contemplated buying a house with Nigel the drummer and his partner Angie. Realistically, the places in Northamptonshire we checked out for this mild experiment in not-quite communal living were too grand and expensive, and among them were a lovely but damp-feeling house in Quinton, owned by a surgeon and his wife, who turned out to be the midwife who looked after Sue when Matt was born. Not long afterwards Nigel and Angie weren't 'Nigel and Angie' any longer, so this was something that just wasn't to be. Looking at where we might have lived, we might have done all right financially. Just around St. John the Baptist's church it's all very bijou, even a touch swanky.

I stop at the village seat. A small boy comes to play football in the yard between his front door and some barns. He sees me with a map and asks me if I'm lost - very charming! It begins to rain and I don my anorak, just where a chap is struggling with a strimmer, as one does when the cable needs replacing. Up the road and across the fields the countryside begins to roll, and there are long, green views. At first the paths are properly cut into the fields of wheat, but sod's law, just at the point where there's a long stretch as barley crowds over the footway from both sides, it begins to hammer down under a lively breeze, and despite rainwear and umbrella, I'm soon soaked from above and below. My Merrills are squelching, Goretex or no.

I seek sanctuary in an open Piddington church, another St. John the Baptist, and before long the church treasurer, Jill Watson turns up, surprised to see me eating my sandwich and dripping over their porch. I explain what I'm doing. She was in Weston Favell the other Sunday with their young people and had a look at where we worship. Very different buildings, she says. We have a carpet: they don't. We have a chapel: they don't.  But they have a servery, and an intimate, cosy nave. It's a very nice place to be, Piddington church. In fact I like everything about the village, which by its considerable size will surprise the innocent visitor because here, at the gateway to Salcey Forest, the road stops. As Steve Earle sings it, 'There ain't a lot that you can do in this town/Drive down to the lake and turn back around'. Except there isn't a lake here, just the trees.

But Piddington has a long history, right back to the Stone Age. Its Roman villa is well-celebrated. We even know who lived there at one point, a Tiberius Claudius Severus, probably a Brit who acquired Roman citizenship. Currently the archaeologists to whom we owe the annual excavations are turning their attention to what the gardens might have been like at the villa's peak. From post-holes they've discovered, they think that the Romans cultivated espalier fruit trees around the walls of the vegetable garden. I'm much moved by this ancient sophistication. There's a museum here, but it's only open on Sundays. I'll have to come back another time.

Round the back of Horton's 'The French Partridge' (as recently as the early 1980s Northamptonshire's only restaurant of repute, but tres, tres pretentious back then, despite serving what I swear were tinned potatoes on one occasion!) is the church of St. Mary Magdalene. It's now closed for worship, and from the outside it looks rather sad. I've never been very sure about Horton. The heart of the village is a private road which seems to me to breathe hostility to the world beyond, and the closure of the church just amplifies the apparent lack of warmth, reminding me of that old excluding county set and style we first knew. Sorry, Hortonians, just speaking as I find.

I walk back to Piddington and from there almost down into Hackleton on the Northampton road, looking in vain for the site of the Roman villa, trying to think where I'd have wanted to stick my personal mosaics and hypocaust. It's nowhere advertised, and probably very wise too, to keep the metal detectorist treasure hunters at bay. Hackleton has no Anglican church, but it does have a Carey Baptist chapel so named because William of that ilk preached his very first sermon in the village. The railway from Bedford to Northampton passed to the north of Hackleton, but one of the two stops between these two main towns was called 'Piddington' in recognition of the greater status of that village, even though it was situated more than a country mile away. Near here there were once two branch lines. One took supply trains to the site of a now defunct MOD ordnance depot. And just outside Horton, a bridge over the Newport Pagnell road signifies the disused track of the line which would have once carried punters to the Towcester Races a hundred years ago. The owner of a gracious house sited in the middle of Salcey Forest had himself a station built on this branch purely for domestic use. I believe the platform is still there somewhere in the bushes. Those were the days. Not.

I'm approaching the low point of my day as the weather, which had briefly threatened to become more clement, takes another turn for the worse. It's one of those occasions when the walker's always too hot or too cold. And now I have no choice but to extract the compass from my bag because the ruddy farmer has removed the line of a path towards Preston Deanery. I follow the be-thistled edge
of a field and find another path that will do. It crosses two more fields, goes round the end of a copse and passes uphill towards a sewage plant. Beyond that is a field where the path should continue, but all that's visible is a line of crushed crop where a previous intrepid and very likely irate rambler has pushed through the barley. Since the crop's already damaged I follow in his/her footsteps, only to find that the bloke/girl gave up half way across. And then a clammy hand clutches at my heart as I realise I'm walking without my beloved stick, a precious gift from my dad some twenty years ago. It's been my companion for literally thousands of miles since, once surviving unharmed on a West London tube station for an hour after I'd mislaid it. It's perfectly weighted, light yet stylish, and when reversed, capable of looking daunting in the face of threat from man or beast.

I consider. And then retrace my steps through the barley, past the sewage station, across the fields, round the copse, up the hill and along the edge of the thistly field to where I hope I left it, at the point where I'd been searching my bag for the compass I needed because the ruddy farmer had sown across the path. Grrr! And, be still my anxious heart, there it is, a silver coin in the corner of the swept room, snuggled down in the long grass awaiting my return.

It takes two more attempts before I unlock the secret of the route to Preston Deanery but eventually I reach the small, perfect, spare and beautiful church of St. Peter and St. Paul, now technically redundant, but open to visitors each day, and used by the benefice on special occasions. There are life size cut-outs of greyhounds laid on sacking in the chancel because one lordly owner kept his dogs there in the early 17th Century. In the tower is a mobile of papier mache pigeons. When the unsuspecting visitor enters a cooing soundtrack begins and the mobile starts to move. The tower was once used as a pigeon loft. It's an enchanting place with a chequered history. It is the wider Church writ in small.

The day ends as it began - with animals. On the way back to Wootton I run the gauntlet through two fields which are temporary home to over a hundred inquisitive young heifers. I shake my friendly stick in their direction and they run off to play at the opposite end of the pasture.

Stats man: 24 km. 8 hrs. 19 degrees max. 5 churches. 5 rain showers of varying ferocity. 1 small deer. 1 small hawk. 1 large hawk (red kite). 1 new Prime Minister Designate (female)


You are my strong staff,
My high tower,
My shelter from the wind and the rain.
In your places
there is delight and tranquillity.
I find joy and tears mingled
within your walls.
By your law of love
I am refreshed and satisfied.
You are balm for my feet
and rest for my aching limbs.
Thank you.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Duck rabbit?

Like it says on the tax form (more or less) - if you've had enough of the dark and serious, if one more 'Thought for The Day' themed around Britain's place in the world is going to make you flip your lid - then please go straight to Letter B


But for those of you still with me...

There's a terrifying song by Don Henley called 'New York Minute' which describes the precariousness of life in the Big Apple. Aaron Sorkin, who knows a good tune when he hears one, used it in the soundtrack to 'The West Wing's special episode commemorating the events of 9/11. 'In a New York minute, everything can change'.

I suppose Christians recognise drastic, traumatic life-change as much as anyone. The shared experience of any Christian community inevitably means the embrace of others' personal tragedies. At the heart of most Christian traditions is the notion of 'conversion': the swapping of one life for a new one, a dying to the old self through the waters of baptism.

Well, the events of two Thursdays ago were as big a political step-change as I ever want to experience: a punch in the guts, the death of a dream. I truly think, though others will disagree, that for Britain and we British the world will never be the same again, and not in a good way.

Two things. Firstly this is the kind of moment when some of us take comfort in the idea that: 'None can thee secure/But one who never changes/Thy God, thy life, thy cure'. Except I want my God to encompass and identify with change as we experience it, to be 'always becoming'. But that's OK. I don't understand much Wittgenstein, but I've always 'got' the idea he explored in The Philosophical Investigations of the transforming figure, the famous duck-rabbit. Entities can flip, can be perceived as one thing at one moment and another at another - and it probably really happens out there in the universe a lot more than we yet know. If God is all, then I think He's like that too. I'm hoping He's somewhere in this change and decay which all around I see.

Secondly I notice in myself a tendency to read all encountered behaviour in the light of this new, more cruel world. Is this happening to you too?

Which brings me, almost literally, to Harpole...


German Car No. 1 needs more attention, possibly on strike over Brexit. So I leave it with the garage as before (see June 2nd) and retrace my steps towards Duston, exercising an urban walker's imagination as to what the developers might have done with the footpath marked on my OS Explorer. Before I locate it skulking behind the hospital, I see something I've never seen before. On the dual carriageway out of town a car steadfastly refuses to give way to an ambulance on its way to a 'shout'. The car ignores the blues and twos for a couple of minutes, blocking in the paramedics. Almost unbelievably, it then gives chase to the ambulance as it accelerates towards the M1; a callous, egotistical, perhaps drug fuelled misuse of the roads.

Then over the next three hours I encounter footpaths that have been removed or deliberately obfuscated, electric fences where they shouldn't be, gates tied shut across a long-distance path, notices advising of bulls in fields where there clearly aren't any, bolts deliberately filed back at kissing gates to prevent them being opened. At one moment a dog noisily worries at my heels before its laughing owner calls it away. Since he's bigger than me (the owner, not the dog) I don't argue, just rage silently at the crassness and unkindness of the world. But...

Having waisted my way through a bean-field, where the mud lay dinted by someone's nag a few weeks previously, I pause at the village limit for Harpole. A notice says that (hurray!) the church is open each day for inspection of the local plan. Local plans are very much the thing, don't you know. On I go, past Carr's Close (J.L.Carr was a Northamptonshire author who wrote a book called 'The Harpole Report', its protagonist being one George Harpole. Carr was in the habit of naming his fictional characters after real Northamptonshire places!), and wondrous to relate, people start to say hello. I've entered an alternative universe called 'Friendly'. It begins with two chaps pushing barrows towards the allotments. It continues in All Saints Church, where Bridget and Graham Paul are tying up the bells, prior to teaching a few campanological fine points to two Rothersthorpe parishioners. Outside again, a couple more people greet me warmly before a young woman walking her dog stops to ask me how far I'm going and to tell me what a lovely place Harpole is. And then I share my stroll on to Nether Heyford up Glassthorpe Lane with Pat who hails from Dorset and is an enthusiastic rambler. Sadly her husband's dodgy knees now prevent them sharing this pleasure together. At this point I feel pretty duck-rabbited. On a dime the world has changed from nasty to nice.

In medieval times, Glassthorpe was a village too, and is mentioned in the Domesday Book, but by the 18thC it had depopulated, and now there's just the farm. It comes to me that an old friend of ours, Roy Hill, once lived with his wife Di in Harpole. A wonderfully gentle man, Roy succumbed to early onset dementia, but in his prime he knew a great deal about 'lost' villages. He must have walked here often. He also properly corrected me when as a Kentish Man I protested that there were no hills and woods in Northamptonshire. There are! Pat, my walking companion, remarks that around here it looks more like Derbyshire and it's true: the hill to be climbed feels much more than its 140 metres. On the far side the sketchy path drops sharply to the Mid-Shires Way which then draws a bead on Nether Heyford.

Once upon a time, Upper Heyford (not to be confused with the place of the same name in Oxfordshire from which USAF F-111s used to take off to bomb Colonel Gaddafi) and Nether Heyford were called Heyford Superiore and Inferiore. Generations ago I guess this may have led to some psychological problems but the inferiors had the last laugh. Upper Heyford is now a tiny footnote on the A45 while Nether Heyford is a large, thriving village with a huge green and an attractive range of buildings including the church dedicated to Saint Peter and Saint Paul. It too is open (I'm having to eat my words from a fortnight ago!) and its light airy interior looks lovingly cared for: a mix of ancient and modern. The quietness inside is deafening: my tinnitus is ringing away merrily.

The furnaces are gone from Furnace Lane now. It leads up to the main drag of the Grand Union Canal. I turn left onto the towpath while the Birmingham to Euston main line thunders away to my right. The canal twists and turns until a little way past a large marina the lane to Bugbrooke appears. I'm disappointed by the pub in the village which despite the notice outside isn't serving food, but not by St. Michael and All Angels Church. A dark wood rood screen separates nave and chancel, rendering the former an indistinct cave of mystery, but the literature on the table by the entrance suggests a robustly evangelical attitude.

For locals of my age the village of Bugbrooke is still synonymous with the 'Jesus People' who bought the 'big house' and much else besides in the 70s at a flowering-time of charismatic religion around the country. It must have been strange (perhaps still is?) to be worshipping or ministering in a local Anglican church which the Christian community in the house next door deems to be in apostasy. In contrast, conservatives like me suspected the Jesus People of  brainwashing. The 'Jesus Movement' certainly threw up some curiosities, among them the 'Children of God', who were founded in California but came to Bromley. Unlike Joni Mitchell who encountered a Child of God on the road to Yasgur's Farm, I met my wispy-bearded adherent on a train out of Victoria. We tried to convert each other. Neither side was successful. I hope he found his way out of what was rapidly becoming a very troubled, even perverse organisation. These days the Bugbrooke 'Jesus People' have become almost mainstream, their pattern of worship and organisation much copied, but still not my cup of tea.

Through fields of barley I come to the Nene Way at Heygates Mill, sitting like a white cathedral on the plain by the river. The Nene Way used to be beautifully appointed and waymarked, but now it's showing age. The stiles are overgrown, and I have to thrust through piles of oilseed either side of the motorway as I pass into the site of Fairfax's 1645 Civil War camp. The village of Kislingbury is close by. St. Luke's is shut but I pause to read a psalm outside where there's a shady bench. An elderly black lab pulls its owner onto the slightly too adjacent grass where it pees uncertainly. 'He likes it here', she says. 'I can see,' I reply.

The Psalm of David (18) speaks uncomfortably of war and revenge: it's language is stark and uncompromising. As I sit I reflect that the Civil War may have been the last time Britain was as divided as it is now. The consequences of that were long-lasting and terrible. And what now? I'd like this duck to turn into a rabbit. Or the other way round.

Stats man:  25 km.   8 hours.   4 churches (3 open!)  21 degrees.  No precipitation. Breeze gusting maybe 20 mph earlier and later. One small hawk. Two squirrels.

Father God
We confess
Sometimes we too have put profit before people
Position before principle
Power before purity
Please give to all in authority
Wisdom and integrity
Sound judgment and a sense of justice
Discernment and a desire for the common good.
We pray it through Jesus Christ
Your Son
Our elder brother and example