Sunday, 29 October 2017

The Third Way

Last week it was a soul-warming 25 degrees where we were holidaying in the Vaucluse. They've had little or no rain down there for months: the rivers are dry when they shouldn't be. As I set out to walk the weather's fair in Eydon but the temperature's down by eleven points and it's a bit cool around the knees.

I like walking in shorts, although the risks of the tick-borne Lyme's Disease - about which I've written before - are increasing. Matt Dawson, the one time Saints and England scrum-half was a recent victim, and a more resilient individual it's hard to imagine. I'm of the age when 'short trousers' were the established male mode of dress for school or leisure until at least the age of twelve. The transition into 'longs' was a pubertal rite of passage, slightly weird to our contemporary way of thinking. I wonder to myself whether my fondness for shorts is regressive behaviour -infantilism - and then start to contemplate the New Testament contrast between accepting the Kingdom of God 'as a child' and the labyrinthine twists and turns of intellect-defeating Pauline theology. Transactional Analysis has it that most of us still play at being both children and adults depending on any particular relationship or encounter and the side we get out of bed in the morning. I suppose as a Christian I can identify with that. Sometimes I display the petulance of a spoiled child to God, and sometimes, Him and me, we're best adult-to-adult buddies. Is either completely appropriate?

Down the bottom of the hill near the stream, the bridleway becomes very muddy indeed, and I slipslide along it holding the fence, trying not to hate horsey people. Tolerance and compromise are required in the countryside as everywhere else. I didn't hear very much of those qualities from the mouth of Andrew Gillett of the Country Land and Business Association on BBC's Countryfile last Sunday. The problem he was addressing is real and painful enough. Every year many farmers suffer financial loss and emotional turmoil when their sheep and cattle are attacked and sometimes killed by uncontrolled dogs. Most walkers will be able to cite supporting evidence for the claim that a minority of dog-owners are blind to the less attractive nature of their pets, and take insufficient measures to restrain them. Gillett's solution (he's a lawyer) is that farmers should be able to ban walkers from long-established rights of way for substantial periods of time. It's a Trojan Horse, folks. This is a lobby for those who would wish to permanently exclude all of us, whether we have dogs or not, from places we have an ancient right to be. I hope Members of Parliament listen politely and say 'no'. I've written to Angela Smith M.P., one of those being lobbied, expressing that hope. Perhaps others will do the same.

The Macmillan Way becomes rather vague as I head towards Moreton Pinkney. Two late teenage girls are bouncing around the old railway embankment in a 4x4. I say that I've missed my path, and ask if they know where it might have gone. They look at me as if I've dropped in from Planet Stupid: they obviously haven't the foggiest what a 'long distance footpath' is, although they're locals. I clamber down through the embankment thicket and locate a lane which turns out to be the right route. Again, I'm afraid one has to suspect that a landowner has wilfully removed signs. On a 'named' footpath. Disgraceful.

Morteon Pinkney is a straggly, green and pleasant village. Forty years ago, Stuart Marson used to celebrate it as a representative icon for the whole of Northamptonshire. He gave it its very own Blues. One of the verses referred to the perennial likelihood of the Cobblers, Northampton Town's football club, being relegated. Famously, the Cobblers are the only team who've ever gone from the bottom division of the Football League to the top division in successive seasons only to sink back whence they came with similar speed. They're currently in Division 2 (the old Division 3) and guess what? Yup, they're back in the relegation zone again.

I drop in on old friend Jane, but she answers the door looking very poorly. Jane's a teacher, and she's made it to half-term only to succumb to the 'flu. We swap greetings at arm's length on her doorstep, and I go off to St. Mary's church to offer up a prayer for her recovery well before Sunday evening, so that she gets some proper holiday before returning to the fray. St. Mary's is a dinky little church with lots of interest. There's a nineteenth century clock on display with connections to a Canadian bishop of the time, a lovely piece of wall art recording donations to the church during the eighteenth century, and a Platonic quote by the organ console.

Amen. The church gate asks visitors to keep it shut because of grazing sheep, and indeed you can walk straight into the fields beyond via a kissing gate. Keeping your back to the church there's a lovely view of what I presume to be the Georgian Old Rectory. The touches of humour in a church building, the way its pews are polished, always speak to me of a community's character, and its feeling for the place of worship at its centre.

Across the fields on the other (north) side of the road is Canons Ashby, a National Trust property, which was in ruins until 1981, when Gervase Jackson-Stops pulled off a coup in seeing this Elizabethan manor house gloriously restored using government money. It's small but perfectly formed: a quiet architectural and horticultural pleasure. Over the far side is the Priory church, one of only four private Anglican churches in the country, or so it says inside. I'm not sure what this means. What I do know is that there was once an Augustinian foundation here until Henry VIII and his team pulled it to pieces, leaving the very truncated building we can visit today. Gervase is fittingly commemorated with a wall plaque.

As is the case with many NT properties at this time of year, much is being made at Canons Ashby of all things Hallowe'en. Pumpkins adorn every wall, and children, some of whom are far too old for this kind of stuff IMO anyway, scamper around dressed as witches warlocks, zombies and all the rest of their undead friends. I don't like it, though as 'Peter Simple's invention Dr Heinz Kiosk often used to remark in his long-running Daily Telegraph column, 'Ve are all guilty...'. I'm afraid I too have contributed a smidge to the broomstick industry, writing music to accompany audio books of Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul's 'Winnie the Witch'. Seeing the way fireworks, all purpose spookiness, Diwali, Disney etc. etc. have now combined into a rootless, new age, amorphous, autumn retail-fest, I repent. Apart from boosting the economy ( and would we do this at any moral cost?) what's any of it really about? Weston Favell has resounded to explosions of one sort or another every evening since October 23rd. Is it communal guilt that we aren't living in Aleppo?

Away from Canons Ashby to the north-west the countryside begins to feel increasingly remote - for Northamptonshire. I wind up a little valley to a bridleway and in time climb to the highest point on the ridge overlooking Woodford Halse. A kindly farmer hangs back from spraying his crop for a couple of minutes to let me pass - a nice courtesy. In the town I climb Scrivens Hill to find that St. Mary's church is swathed in scaffolding - major repairs - and that all services are being held in The Nest, a children's facility back down the hill. I know that The Nest has something to do with children because a few hundred metres on I'm hailed by Judy who tells me so. She's curious to know why I'm photographing the houses. Judy's the sacristan at St. Mary's and still holds a grudge against Henry VIII for what he did to Canons Ashby. I ask her how long she's been sacristan. Thirty-five years, she says, and I repress a smile. You'd have to be a fan of the BBC's ancient comedy show Round the Horne to understand why. A running gag in this 60's creation was Horne as BBC reporter interviewing a hoary-voiced local. 'How long have you been mowing the lawns/ringing the bells/dwile flunking/etc.' he would ask. 'Thir-ty five years!' would come the invariable answer. It was easier to get laughs in those days...

Is there a town of comparable size (max 3,500) more indebted than Woodford Halse to its railway past which today has no trains or track? I doubt it. It was once a four-way junction on the Great Central Line, the third way of Britain's north-south railways. Now what's left is a monumental pair of railway bridges, and between them the sad, bricked up entrance to the station which once stood there. There's a raised pocket park too, which follows the line of the 'permanent way', and rows of terraced houses for the one-time railway workers which was what Judy discovered me photographing. Chiltern Railways once had dreams of extending from Banbury to Leicester through here, but those sketchy plans were abandoned as late as 2012. New housing and lack of demand killed off any prospects. There was a substantial engine shed here once, visited regularly by the biggest of the post-war steam locomotives. All sheds had a code. Woodford Halse's was 1G, but I never made it this far as a (shorts-wearing!) sub-teenage loco spotter.

A thing I love about the late autumn is the quality of the light on a day like this, as beautiful as the most subtle stage illumination, casting a golden glow across grass and stone. And so it is as I cross to West Farndon on the Jurassic Way through a succession of sheep fields helpfully waymarked by a farmer with boards warning me that there's a bull on the loose. I haul myself up the incline back into Eydon and the day is book-ended by a pretty young woman on a bicycle. In the morning she'd smiled at me as I was putting on my boots by the tailgate of the car. We meet again at a gate, and she smiles again. 'You're brave', she says, indicating my bare legs and tee-shirted top. The sun has just set, and yes I suddenly think, it is rather chilly, isn't it. I return to the car, an old man foolishly affirmed by a brief encounter.

Scrawls on the wall: 19 km. Just under six hours. One piece of toffee-apple cake and two cups of Earl Grey courtesy of the N.T.. Three churches. 15 degrees C. and bracingly beautiful 12 stiles. 21 gates. 5 bridges.

When I misunderstand
Or am misunderstood,
Help me to see my fault.
Renew my ways of being;
Give me a kinder language;
A wider repertoire of mercy;
A more generous appreciation of difference.
So may I do my little part
In moving forward your Kingdom
Here on Earth

Friday, 6 October 2017

Who knows where the time goes?

As I'm driving just past Trafford Bridge a white van's coming towards me at speed. I take avoiding action. There's an almighty thump from the front near side as the Polo's wheel drops into a chasmatic pothole. I swear and nurse our little car the last couple of miles into Chipping Warden, lest the suspension be warped or broken, but the VW's German technology seems to have survived intact. Country roads whether in West Virginia or West Northamptonshire are under stress these days. I expect they receive as much attention as they ever did i.e. about once every fifty years, but they were never intended to take the weight of HGVs or today's farming behemoths.

It's a rude shock emerging from the Polo into today's bright sunshine. The breeze from the north west is keen and chilly. I'm glad to have three layers to put on. Autumn really has arrived. Most of the way to Aston le Walls I'm walking round what's left of the perimeter road for the defunct Chipping Warden airfield. In its Second War heyday this must have been a state-of-the-art facility with its concrete runways and spread of buildings. All gone now, of course. There's an industrial estate to the south side, and where I am to the north arable farming has returned. They flew Ansons and Wellingtons here in wartime, and there were a number of fatal crashes, including the one I mentioned in the previous post. Another Wellington hit the roof of the Manor at Boddington, killing some of the house's occupants as well as the crew. Perhaps close proximity to the village of Chipping Warden was one reason why the airfield was never promoted to post-war duty, and so abandoned after service as a communications station.

Some days it's impossible to avoid the day's news as one walks. Unwanted images and anxious thoughts about events rattle round the head obsessively. The old catchphrase 'What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas...' (too frequently adapted to other situations e.g. 'What happens on tour...' ) manifestly isn't true now. The place is almost a suburb of Woking or Todmorden. When asked, a large percentage of Pointless quiz contestants will say that if they win the jackpot they'll spend it on a trip to Nevada. Even the Crosses have been there (although not to gamble, he said hurriedly, just to see the gondolas and the Chihuly glass...) and wasn't that a very strange, disorienting experience. Thankfully we were only disconcerted by the heat, wind and dust but the questions raised by this week's appalling massacre at the Mandalay aren't just for Americans and aren't just about gun control.

   A universe away from Vegas, Aston le Walls is a pretty place. There are two churches. In addition to St. Leonard's, there's the very perky looking Catholic chapel of the Sacred Heart and Our Lady, which has a particularly attractive mezzanine for coffee and chat. I visit both places of worship, and hope that their clergy and people get on: it's a small village. It interests me to wonder how far widespread the Catholic congregation is - but from the nameboard of incumbents I can see that a John Gother, the first priest, was appointed here in 1688, so at any rate there's a long tradition. Invoking the 'persistence principle', perhaps there's still an above average number of Catholic families in the neighbourhood. Even in Tudor times recusancy flourished where the roads were bad. The newsletter for Sacred Heart has Father James, the current priest, explaining that he's slowly recovering from a prolonged and distressing loss of voice (all very New Testament, thinking of what happened to John the Baptist's dad - though I'm not suggesting any lack of faith on Father James' part!)

The walk from Aston to Byfield along a verdant lane sometimes more, sometimes less distinct as it runs in the lee of the ridge, is sheer joy on a cheerfully sunny day, the path inhabited by what ee cummings called the 'leaping greenly spirits of trees' and 'the blue true dream of sky'. Bouncing over the grass at a good pace, I notice what I've experienced before: what I assume to be a reduced flow of oxygen to the brain alters my state of consciousness. Ideas, thoughts, fragment of tunes become more diffuse, less translatable into words. And so, with Father James' difficulty fresh in my mind, I start to think about the mysterious phenomenon of glossolalia - speaking in tongues. It feels to me, in this blissed moment of one-ness with nature, as if the reason more of us don't experience this 'gift of the Spirit', is the internal inhibition I'm detecting now. In the ecstatic, beyond-words grip of the moment I feel a tightness in my throat as I strive to reach for a different expression of joy and praise. But me, I can never pivot beyond that self-revealing point of release, even when I'm out here alone. My loss? I don't know, because I've been in congregations where a lot has been made to hang from the necessity of speaking in tongues as a test of true spirituality, or of even being a real fully paid up Christian, and I don't buy that idea for one moment. But I think the role of our voices' use in worship is a deep, multi-faceted subject, and it's something I could think about more. Is the phenomenon of glossolalia supernatural at all? Is it even distinctively Christian?

                                                    Del Boy's country scrapyard: Byfield 

Holy Cross in Byfield seems to be in what one might call that village's 'Sports Quarter' (for those living outside Northampton, you need to know that our town is blessed with a 'cultural quarter' and a 'shoe quarter'. For all I know there may be a 'slum quarter' and a 'get-bladdered' quarter too. It's just that they haven't put up the signs. I pass Byfield's very swanky tennis club, cross the grass between the football and cricket facilities, and then up on the rise I glimpse the high and handsome spire of the church hidden among trees. Byfield is a larger than average place - its population tops a thousand - and the church's size reflects the ambition. I don't particularly enjoy the pub where my GB is served with a positive scowl. The Lounge Bar's two other occupants are middle-aged ladies, one of whom is maybe a district nurse. They're discussing a daughter's new tattoo with approval - as long as it's only one, mind.

Byfield was for some years the home of the late Sandy Denny, whose utterly individual voice pinned me to the wall when I first heard her sing 'Tam Lin' with Fairport Convention on the Prefects' Room radio some time in '69. The band were experimenting by putting British folk songs into an electric context. Bob Dylan had done the same thing for Americana to cries of 'Judas' from his hardcore post-Woody Guthrie audiences. There were some who felt the same sense of betrayal about adding Gibson 335, electric fiddle and drums to songs like 'Matty Groves' or 'She moves through the fair'. I didn't of course, because I was only 18 and although I knew some of the repertoire it was from Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears performing it, and not from being down the local folk club. If you've never knowingly listened to Sandy Denny, I urge you to find the Fairport recording of her own song 'Who knows where the time goes?'  It's intimate, tender, achingly beautiful, and so sad, because now we know of her tragic, early and accidental death. I saw her sing live only once, at the Albert Hall, when her later band Fotheringay were supported by Elton John, gold painted boots and all, in the first years of his illustrious career. Elton, Reg, the support act!

When a fingerpost for a footpath tells you where you're going, it's a good sign (ha-ha!) I drop down the hill, skirt round the cows munching peacefully in my way, and come up to Boddington reservoir through a spinney near Byfield Pool. I never knew there was a large stretch of water here, but it's lovely. Sufficiently big that there's a flourishing sailing club, but remote enough for me to disturb a lot of bird life on the far side. Two cormorants flap away, struggling to make height, their shape resembling SR-71 spy-planes - which were indeed generically named 'Blackbirds'. A family of jays squawk noisily from the path in front of me: these days I don't see many of these gaudy birds when I'm out and about. A huge grey heron rises majestically to find a new fishing pitch in the marsh. A pheasant whirrs away in panic from the other side of a hedge. As it takes off it makes a reverberating sound like one of Richard Greene's Robin Hood arrows thwacking into a straw target. As I climb the hill a red-sweatered jogger with his dog crosses in front of me. I see him again a mile further on. I suspect he's probably gone three times as far as I have in that time, as I sweat up towards the balcony road to Upper Boddington, treading the verge of Oxfordshire, 'anxious fears subsiding'.

                                The common cormorant (or shag)
                                Lays eggs inside a paper bag
                                The reason you will see no doubt
                                Is to keep the lightning out.

                                But what these unobservant birds
                                Have failed to notice is that herds
                                Of wandering bears may come with buns
                                And steal the bags to hold the crumbs

I never knew this was written by Christopher Isherwood. It gives a quite different slant to his black polo-neck, Berlin avant-garde image. We sang a version of it at primary school, and its quirky humour has been an influence on my children's songs, for good or ill.

A mentally challenged Friesian (I said Friesian not Franciscan !) bellows at me and lifts its head aggressively as I slip into the churchyard of St. John the Baptist, Boddington by the back way. It's a church which is taking God's creation very seriously; the parishioners have noted in great detail the flora and fauna seen around the church grounds. They've taken their meticulous recording one step further when it comes to the graves. A bound booklet of a hundred or so pages of A4 takes the curious visitor through each and every burial. As Richie Benaud would have said in a different context: 'Good effort!'

Coming down off the ridge it's a long walk along the valley before I turn uphill again to the messy agglomeration of buildings at Appletree, once a much larger medieval settlement. Part of the route follows the line of the Millennium Way, also encountered in the last couple of posts. It's sketchily marked, and never won sufficient hearts and minds, I think. Good ideas and innovations in the leisure countryside need ongoing support or they wither, be they pocket parks, cutesey wooden exercise trails or full-blown 'long distance' footpaths. This is a sad feature of routes like the 'London Loop' where one often finds local council enthusiasms discontinued under a subsequent regime and left unloved,  ruined by a plague of vandalism.

Just past Appletree, a Jensen Interceptor, automatic version, purrs past me. A strange design, I've always thought, with all that rear-end weight pulling the bonnet up towards the sky. And unless you have your own personal mechanic, how do you get such a classic serviced? I have enough trouble with the Audi/VW!

Scores on the doors:  20 km.  6 hrs.  14 degrees C. Sun, then cloud., Brisk, blustery wind at times, cool in exposed spots.  22 stiles. 23 gates.  5 bridges.

Great Father of us all

I pray for a melting of hearts;
A freedom from fear;
A recognition that strength comes from within
And not from any weapons we carry.
I pray for those who use guns professionally
To protect people
At home and abroad.
I pray for victims of gun violence
That against the odds
They may find it possible to forgive.

Take from us all
Including me
The fantasies of revenge we rehearse
The hatred of difference we harbour.

I ask these things
In the name of the Prince of Peace,
Jesus our Lord,

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Who is on the Lord's side?

The sheep suddenly scatter left to right up the field across the dapply pasture, and as I round the field edge I see why. Vernon Phipps and his dog are walking up towards me. Vernon's a little younger than I am. Rugged, fit and ruddy of face, he looks the way you'd expect a sheep farmer to look. I ask him if the sheep belong to him. They do. How many has he got? Lots. What's it like as a job? He laughs...good days and bad days. And has life in Culworth changed very much? It's pretty much the same. This is rather reassuring. But later, when I look up his name on the web, I learn of a dreadful day in 2011 when Vernon discovered rustlers had shot and carried away some of his flock. They couldn't remove as many as they'd killed, and he had to clean up, and bury the dead. I can only imagine it was a bad financial loss, and a huge emotional blow. I remember a conversation with a sheep farmer of about the same age in Kent and the evident affection he had for the animals he'd birthed and reared. I was polemical about some farmers in my previous post. It needs saying that the majority are the beating heart of our countryside, and that gratitude should be the lot of the Vernons of this world. I hope their sons and daughters are able to afford to follow in their stead.

It's rather a lovely day. A band of overnight rain has swept through, and now it's calm, quiet and warm, although the grass will stay wet all day. Compared to last autumn, this one's distinctly soggy. The other side of the old railway the paths are mostly well-marked on the diagonal across the fields. At one point I duck into a ravine through a small bog caused by a spring, and cross the infant Rover Cherwell on a plank bridge where there's a life buoy - there's a small, apparently permanent campsite a hundred metres away. On the far side of the stream is the rise to Eydon. First one sees the Big House through the trees to the left, and then there's a short path up to St. Nicholas' church, which is open.

Inside there's an old-fashioned, handsome bier, as might once have been drawn by a horse. It's not unusual to find them in the corner of country churches, but I feel I've seen quite a few in this neck of the county. Are they still used? Perhaps they are from time to time. I'm also rather touched by the simplicity of the few chairs arranged around the altar in St. Nicholas' side chapel, and of course think of the text about the 'two or three gathered together'. I can't see any heating in the church around me, and even on this benign day it strikes me as chilly. How would I feel about my worship if I were cold most of the time I was doing it? Well, actually this is a rhetorical question. I find it well-nigh impossible. This poses a personal challenge insofar as while I'm fit and warm and in the prime of life I know I must do my best to wholeheartedly worship God because when I'm old, ill and fragile, I'm afraid I won't have the spiritual staying power to connect when I perhaps most need it. But cutting away from that individual perspective, finding a way to heat our churches adequately is often a struggle, and perhaps ought to be more of a priority. From time to time last winter I played the organ in a barn of a building where I constantly shivered and shook for reasons other than spiritual ecstasy, except when I was actually on the organ stool, where a large sheet of chipboard shielded me from being charred to a cinder by the fierce heat emitting from the radiator running at my back.

My Glaswegian father-in-law would have been justified in describing Eydon (appropriately pronounced 'Eden') as a 'doozy' - meaning something outstanding or extraordinary. It's a little rectangular shaped village of about four to five hundred people sitting at 550 feet with a stonking view out towards Moreton Pinkney and Canons Ashby to the east. The architectural range within the village is impressive and beautiful, and there's every reason to believe that Eydon is imbued with a community spirit to match the splendour of its rural craftsmanship. I'm first into the pub after it opens at lunchtime, and am followed in by a man over whose genial German Shepherd I have to step repeatedly when ordering my GB or using the facilities. We say 'how do', particularly when I have to re-enter the bar to collect the hat I've left behind. Eydon not only has a Morris side but a Mummers group too, because the village has its own Mummers' Play. I wonder if they perform it in the church? The acoustic in St. Nicholas' is a marvel all of itself.

I pick up the Macmillan Way which has very sensibly included Eydon on its scenic walkers' route from far away Lincolnshire to distant Dorset, and follow the bridleway back down to the Cherwell, and then up the other side of the river valley until the Jurassic Way runs in from the north-east to join us. I tell myself that I should remember the path - I certainly walked here some years ago - but it rings no bells until I've descended to the 'Welsh Road' (the other locus of predation by the Culworth Gang). Then looking behind me my memory's jogged by the shape of the hill and the loneliness of the largely discarded lane, once so important to the local rural economy. Across the field I pass through the spinney where sit the rather creepy remain of the huts and shelters which once served the wartime Chipping Warden airfield. On the sunny far side a song happens, and I sit on a bench to write a first-draft lyric about late-flowering love into my I-phone, hoping that when I need to later, I'll be able to remember the tune that's playing in my head. I'm looking for a final song for the album I'm recording with friend Brendan, and maybe this is it. The musical sequence (I'm old-fashioned enough to want our album not  just to be a random collection of songs - like, man, a concept album ?) is too maudlin as it stands: we need something positive and cheerful with three chords to finish things off. In the pub down the road I find the same bloke with the German Shepherd I encountered in Eydon. He looks a bit sheepish, as if I have him pegged as a toper. He explains too quickly that they serve food in Chipping Warden: new management means you can't get anything to eat in Eydon. Yeah, yeah, I say. And order my second GB of the day.

There's an air of faded grandeur, a certain...atmosphere...about SS Peter and Paul, Chipping Warden. It's a large building in an imposing position. I can't get in, but beat its bounds. It's one of those encounters which leaves me hoping that everything's all right with the place, but unsure that it is. A gentleman unloads the boot of his car by the church, whistling the Old Rugged Cross, a curious counterpoint.

My walk will take me up to Edgcote House, and by the gates on its drive there's a sign which explains that this point marks the beginning of the 'Battlefields Trail'. The trail describes a semicircle past the site of the War of the Roses' Battle of Edgcote, before moving west towards Cropredy Ridge and Edge Hill, where two Civil War battles were fought.

I know a lot of people are really enthusiastic about military history. Me, I'm ambivalent. You can't really 'do' history without understanding who won what when. But I never want to become desensitised to the horrors of war, and suspect some of being too 'objective' just because these events are way in our past. I think it doesn't sit well to be too jolly about atrocities, whenever they were committed. This can of course raise problems when reading the Old Testament. When we returned from our first visit to Israel in 1977, at a time of tension in the Middle East, our consciousness had admittedly been raised somewhat - armed presence at one kibbutz gig, and another performance brought forward because of shooting at the theatrical lighting during a previous evening etc. etc. Back in Blighty, the first hymn the following Sunday was 'Who is on the Lord's side?' and I remember getting very cross at the maintenance of military metaphor by a Northampton congregation who seemed very comfortable and complacent in their own security, thank you. This was unfair of me, but my sensitivity remains, even in the face of Paul's injunction to put on the 'whole armour of God'. I get it, just about, but wish we could find better word pictures. As if to point up these matters, a few hundred metres further on there's a quiet memorial to the crew of a Wellington bomber, who didn't quite make it back to base, crashing a couple of miles from their destination with the loss of six crew.

Hard by Edgcote House, the handsome little church (very close to Chipping Warden's) isn't open either. Three men with cameras will be similarly disappointed.  It's Graham, Lewis and, goodness gracious, Andrew, who worships at our own St. Peter's in Weston Favell, twenty five miles away. They go out to walk every Thursday. We swap info about routes and pubs. Edgcote is very photogenic. Round the back of the House is the Mill, where it looks as if the water-wheel's still in working condition, and further on is the intriguing Roman site at Blackgrounds where a bath house was discovered in 1849, though fears were thereafter expressed for its continued integrity because of ploughing. I can see two possible locations for it on the slightly higher ground overlooking the stream and close to the springs there. The most likely looks to be some considerable bumps in a field which is now fallow (and has been for some time?)

Another wayside legend shortly tells me I'm near the Edgcote battlefield (or Danesmoor, as it's sometimes called). We're talking 1469, we're talking Edward IV (he of wooing and then marrying Elisabeth Woodville near Grafton Regis), we're talking Shakespeare's impossibly bloody, nay unwatchable, Henry VI, although I can't remember whether it's part I, II, or III. This is England as Afghanistan, riddled with internecine strife and double dealing, the playground of warlords. Pembroke is for the King, Warwick for the rebels. Warwick wins the day. Pembroke and his henchmen lose the battle because of treachery on July 26th, and are executed on the 27th. When the event is commemorated these days, a wreath is laid to the fallen at Trafford Bridge over which I now walk.

                                                                  Near Danesmoor

As I pass beneath the railway arch on green Banbury Lane, I disturb whole families of pheasants which chuck chuck noisily up and away from their hidey hole on the overgrown banks. A hundred metres or so up the track I nod to a young woman and her nine year old son who are having a short post-school ride. They've seen the birds scatter, and she's telling him about the game pie she'll make for the family at Christmas. They turn at the bottom by the bridge and walk the horses up past me again, still talking about the meal. I say, 'I think I'm coming to your house on Christmas Day!' ' Sounds delicious, doesn't it?' the young woman answers with a laugh. Culworth. Peaceful. Normal.

Stats man.  18 km.  6 hrs. 20 degrees. Sun. 7 stiles. 12 gates. 4 bridges. Kumar Sangakkara: over 2100 runs in all matches for Surrey this season, and averaging nearly a hundred. A master batsman of impeccable technique: feisty during his early career, statesmanlike later on. Perhaps a career to come in Sri Lankan politics?

Dear Lord
Let me flame red in the autumn of my years.
May my opinions remain sharp:
Tempered with kindness and wisdom.
Let me not be conservative
Because I am frightened
But may I dare to believe the impossible
And so follow
The calling you have gifted us.