Wednesday, 22 November 2017

A different lens

In her interesting book, 'Britannia Obscura', Joanne Parker explores some of the differing ways in which we can 'map' the UK. She takes the reader on an exploration of the caves of Great Britain, its waterways, its air lanes and ley-lines. Here's another way of mapping ourselves:

So far I've treated the Diocese of Peterborough as if it were co-extensive with Northamptonshire, but of course that's wrong. It also comprises the county of Rutland and a little bit of Cambridgeshire, where Peterborough itself is deemed to sit (Ely diocese actually 'owns' a portion of the city).

There are forty-two dioceses in England, each of which has a presiding, metropolitan bishop, each of them operating from 'their own' cathedral. In the case of Peterborough, take a bow, a round of applause please, for Donald Allister. As if he didn't have enough to do, he gets to sit in the House of Lords. Some dioceses (most of them? all of them?) have a suffragan bishop to help out. John Holbrook is the current Bishop of Brixworth. It's an apt title, given Brixworth's ancient pedigree as a place of worship and its geographical position, halfway along the Diocese's long north-east to south-west spread. If there weren't two bishops to share the work, no one could expect the inquisition or indeed any episcopal visit at all in the distant south.

The Diocese is also divided into archdeaconries, Oakham and Northampton. And in this case each archdeaconry is subdivided into six deaneries, which in turn are divided into the parishes which most members of the Church of England experience as their day to day spiritual/practical/pastoral/cake-eating reality. Is it coincidence there are twelve deaneries?

I can sense a yawn coming on (yours not mine) so I won't bother you with what Bishops, Archdeacons, Deans, Rural Deans etc. etc. do to earn their daily bread. Astute and intelligent readers that you are, I know you can perfectly well look this up if you don't already know.

So you can better see where I've been and where I'm going, I'll occasionally throw in some maps of the different deaneries from now on. I did ask the Diocese if they'd let me use theirs, but they said no, and offered the thought that they didn't know who owned the copyright. you'll have to make do with my own, I'm afraid. As you can see they have more in common with the Mappa Mundi than the OS in terms of precision or artistic merit. Well, let's say nothing about the artistic merit. I haven't sussed why I can't coax a better resolution out of the image. Sorry.

Channel 4/BBC4 have thus far missed a trick. You know how they like to enliven their schedules intermittently by grouping programmes round a particular theme? What a brilliant thing it would be to give us an evening of hallmark episodes from the major TV comedy series about the Church! The Vicar of Dibley would have to be included of course, and certainly Rev but also the venerable black and white of All Gas and Gaiters and possibly Derek Nimmo's subsequent Oh Brother! Room would have to be found too for Father Ted whose charms have always passed me by, though my friend Jo, who's Roman Catholic swears by it. As a study in contrasting views of Archdeacons (allegedly the hatchet men/women of the Church) compare Robertson Hare's sherry swilling Henry Blunt in All Gas and Gaiters ('I don't mind if I do, Bishop...') with Simon McBurney's scheming Mafioso in Rev haranguing Tom Hollander's hapless antihero Rev. Adam Smallbone in the back seat of a cab, before expelling him carelessly into an inconvenient, damp London street.

Not a word of truth in any of these caricatures. Surely not.  Not even in John Barron's 'Dean of St. Ogg's'. Great fun, though.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

I would walk five hundred miles...

Amongst other things, when the bell rings for November it's usually time for me to do my annual accounts. So in a spirit of reflection and totting up, eighteen months or so into my Long Walk to all the churches in Peterborough Diocese, here's an interim report on the story so far. For walks 1-28, please look at the post for March 28th 2017 ('Anniversary').

The recitation of village names brings back many happy memories of beautiful and holy places, charming people and aching feet.

In all I've dropped in on, or walked and prayed around, 187 churches, and covered a distance of 905 kilometres, which approximates to 565 miles in old money. If I'm right that there are maybe four hundred churches in the eventual itinerary, well I'm almost half way there. So far it's been a blast...

If you're going to retrace any of these routes, then the usual health warnings apply, and in any case you do so at your own risk. Vaya con dios but also adequately shod and clothed. Take some water, an OS Explorer map and your mobile. A compass is nice. Tell someone where you're going, particularly if you're walking solo or you're like me and not as young as you once were. Observe the 'country code'. Shut gates behind you. Keep your dogs on a lead. Be wary of any cattle you encounter. Be nice to farmers. And vicars. Do not steal the lead from their church roof.

Walk 29:   Croughton - Evenley - Juniper Hill - Cottisford - Tusmore - Croughton ( 30.03.17)
                    ( 22.5 km.)

Walk 30:    Overstone - Sywell - Mears Ashby - Hardwick - Overstone (10.04.17)
                     ( 17 km.)

Walk 31:    Great Doddington - Wilby - St. Mark's Wellingboro' - St Barnabas' Wellingboro' -
                    All Hallows Wellingboro' - All Saints Wellingboro' - St. Mary's Wellingboro -
                    St. Andrew's Wellingboro' - Great Doddington  ( 16.04.17)  (19 km)

Walk 32:    Hardwick - Orlingbury - Pytchley - Isham - Little Harrowden - Great Harrowden -
                    Hardwick  ( 26.04.17)  (20.5 km)

Walk 33:     Irchester - Higham Ferrers - St. Peter's Rushden - St. Mary's Rushden -      
                     Whitefriars - Irchester  (08.05.17)   ( 17 km.)

Walk 34:     Higham Ferrers - Chelveston - Stanwick - Raunds - Irthlingborough - Higham
                     Ferrers  (17.05.17)   (22.5 km.)

Walk 35:     Raunds - Hargrave - Raunds  (23.05.17)    (14 km.)

Walk 36:     Irthlingborough - Little Addington - Great Addington - Finedon -
                     Irthlingborough    ( 12.06.17)  (23 km.)

Walk 37:     Isham - Burton Latimer - Cranford St. John - Cranford St. Andrew - Barton
                     Seagrave - Isham ( 18.06.17)   (17.5 km.)

Walk 38:     Holcot - Old - Walgrave - Hannington - Holcot ( 08.07.17) (17 km)

Walk 39:     Old - Scaldwell - Lamport - Hanging Houghton - Lamport - Faxton - Old
                     (16.07.17)   ( 14 km.)

Walk 40:     Great Addington - Woodford - Islip - Thrapston - Denford - Ringstead  -
                     Great Addington  ( 24.07.17 )  ( 21 km.)

Walk 41:     Thrapston - Titchmarsh - Aldwincle - Lowick - Thrapston ( 01.08.17) ( 18 km.)

Walk 42:     Farthinghoe - Warkworth/Overthorpe - Middleton Cheney - Thenford -
                     Farthinghoe  ( 18.08.17 )  ( 21 km.)

Walk 43:     Middleton Cheney - Chacombe - Coton - Wardington - Thorpe Mandeville -
                     Middleton Cheney  ( 28.08.17 )  ( 21 km. )

Walk 44:     Thorpe Mandeville - Culworth - Sulgrave - Greatworth - Marston St. Lawrence -
                     Thorpe Mandeville ( 25.09.17 )  ( 18 km. )

Walk 45:     Culworth - Eydon - Chipping Warden - Edgcote - Culworth (01.10.17)  ( 18km.)

Walk 46:     Chipping Warden - Aston le Walls - Byfield - Upper Boddington - Appletree -
                     Chipping Warden ( 06.10.17 )  ( 20 km )

Walk 47:      Eydon - Moreton Pinkney - Canons Ashby - Woodford Halse - Eydon
                      ( 29.10.17)   ( 19 km. )

Walk 48:      Moreton Pinkney - Plumpton - Weston - Weedon Lois - Woodend - Blakesley -
                      Moreton Pinkney ( 04.11.17 )   ( 20 km. )

Walk 49:      Woodford Halse - Preston Capes - Fawsley - Church Charwelton - Woodford
                      Halse  ( 11.11.17 )  ( 16 km. )

I know you are with me as I journey.
I ask for joyful feet,
A sensitive eye,
And a prayerful heart.
I pray you will comfort me
As my feet grow weary
My eye dims
And my heart becomes sad.
Be with me, Lord,
All the way to the end of the walk.
I ask it in Jesus' name

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Northamptonshire Gothic

I puff up the hill away from Woodford Halse and ponder whether it's a good thing or not to begin a walk with the longest and steepest climb of the day. Anyway, I'm making a fuss. The valley floors in the Northamptonshire Uplands lie at about 125 metres, and the tops are at about 190, so that's only a rise of about two hundred feet. The very highest point in the county (as we were reminded the other day in a Parish Quiz) is a few miles away at Arbury Hill - 225 metres, 738 feet. A Wikipedia article I read just before writing my previous post said of Blakesley that its altitude is 1400 feet, which just goes to show. Don't trust what you read in Wikipedia articles.

                                 Hellidon in the distance - but you'll need a magnifying glass.

I pass the happily situated Woodford Hill Farm and turn down the narrow metalled lane towards Preston Capes, before detouring on mud and grass to approach the village opposite the pretty descent of the High Street. The year's last roses are dead heads now, courtesy of the first country frosts of the season. A solitary bee makes a final forage as the sun breaks out to lend soft brilliance to the honey stone of the cottages. Norman St. John-Stevas, Lord St. John of Fawsley, lived with his partner in the Old Rectory beside St. Peter and St. Paul's. There's a grey carved memorial stone to the two of them overlooking the valley beyond, just next to the one for Sir Norman's mother, Kitty. I'm somewhat moved. I never met him but he seemed a man full of life, a regular on radio as well as a force in Parliament, an eccentric, a historian, an authority on the law as it pertained to the monarchy, smart and patrician. He was often very funny about Margaret Thatcher, christening her the 'Blessed Margaret' at the time when she brooked no opposition from without or within. At his hands she also acquired the soubriquets 'Tina' (There Is No Alternative) and 'The Leaderene'. Unsurprisingly, despite his many and great talents, he didn't last too long in her cabinet. She tolerated him as Leader of the Commons before he retired to the Lords in 1987. I'm struggling to think of contemporary politicians who make me smile so much. I suppose Johnson has the potential, but usually it's too much like a car crash, as evidenced by his mishandling of the case of Iranian detainee Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe during the last week. Sir Norman was explicitly a Christian. I've always associated him with Catholicism, but perhaps he was an English Catholic for whom the continuity of the Faith was more important than partisan identity with a denomination. I cannot think of a more perfect setting for a country seat than the church and rectory at Preston Capes

                                           These are two friends whose lives were undivided 
                                           So let their memory be now that they have glided
                                           Under the grave. Let not their bones be parted.
                                           For their two hearts in life were single-hearted. 

The winter crops are just greening the fields. I clamber over a loamy hillside and descend to the sheep pastures which surround the lonely church at Fawsley. Sue and I used to escape here when we were young teachers, to give ourselves an occasional Sunday afternoon holiday from the exacting routines of comprehensive education. Back then the Hall was a sprawling ruin around which the wind cried Heathcliff (to merge Kate Bush and Jimi Hendrix). We vaguely used to wonder how the money could be put together to turn the place into an Arts Centre for the county's young people, and wished we had the odd half million to invest. I suspect it would have taken a figure twenty times as large to do the job. It's now an expensive hotel in the middle of perhaps the loveliest landscape in Northamptonshire. As I walk round to the front door of St. Mary's, two ladies meet me coming the opposite way holding what I at first think are baskets of decorations, I assume perhaps for a forthcoming wedding. Jo is from Everdon Field Studies Centre. She's shortly expecting twenty nine Year 4s from Middleton Cheney who are out for a long walk with some birdwatching and church studying thrown in. The baskets actually contain house shoes so that the kids won't totally mess up the church floor. Inside St. Mary's everything is very different to what I remember. The church furniture and the tombs to the Knightley family are all very spruced-up, clear and clean. I say so to Jo, who remarks that the wedding income, given the proximity of the Hotel and Spa (and not much else: there are no domestic houses here) has probably made a big difference to the way the church looks.

What price does one put on a day out for kids like this? How would you successfully evaluate such a thing? - though someone will certainly have to. When you consider the hassle it causes in terms of risk assessment and logistics, you'd have to wonder why teachers still do it - except that in one of the ironies of contemporary education it's of course compulsory that such experiences are offered. Yippee that it's still recognised such moments have the potential to be life-changing. Sir Norman, with his successive briefs for Education and The Arts, would have approved. Let's hope no Singaporean or Korean models of education ever prevail such that this extramurality is deemed too expensive or superfluous to needs.

Notice to non-religious readers. Feel free to skip the next para. I'm off on one...

And you, the Church, what do you think? Are you personally satisfied that we're often only of interest (completely justified interest) as a series of ancient monuments? How do we connect what the kids see at Fawsley - tombs, brasses, dudes in chain mail, altars, baroque organs - with notions like service, sacrifice, the love of God, the community of faith? Are C. of E. schools there to offer a selfless, mute service to the underprivileged kids of Britain, or to proclaim Christ crucified to a Godless nation? To put it another way, should our National Church's logo be a cupcake or a cross? Sue and I were joking this morning that in the way utility companies were sometimes re-branded during the noughties, perhaps the C. of E. should restyle itself 'CAKE' to properly mirror its more usual current public-facing self. Cake's what we seem to offer more than we offer salvation. Discuss.

                                                        St. Mary the Virgin, Fawsley

Are we all back together and sitting comfortably? Good, then I'll resume and briefly turn into Trip Advisor. After Fawsley Hall re-opened as a hotel, we ate there a couple of times, and sadly neither was memorable for the right reasons. The first time round something must have gone Pete Tong with the stock, and the onion soup tasted like nothing before or since. Bad, but no Donald, Really, Really Bad. The second visit, after an interim of many years, was a celebration afternoon tea. When we finally got to the cakes and petits fours, they were OK, but, my dear, the other guests... I'm sure things are different now. But apparently the 'art' on the walls remains horribly the same.

Up the road past the Hall, with one of the lakes to the right, I pass what is marked on the map as 'Little Fawsley', a huge barn of a place shouting for renovation. Smoke rises from a chimney so someone's living there. I turn onto a bridleway where there's a sign to the 'Granary Hotel' and 'Tea Room'. I think to myself: 'Thursday in November?  It'll never be open at lunchtime!' but it is, and I get myself served Earl Grey and delicious scones. There are two other diners. We get talking about local history. They clearly know Northampton well, and we chat about St. Peter's Marefair and the town's Saxon origins. One of the two chaps is a landscaper and he knows Roger and Muriel Clarke - fellow-worshippers and friends at Weston Favell. The other slightly younger guy seems to be the one commissioning the landscaping. It's only when they're about to leave, and the latter has just shown me a lovely, ancient, glassed map of the Fawsley estate which he's produced from somewhere on the first floor above the cafĂ©, that it becomes apparent this is Ben Gage, heir of the entire Fawsley shebang (though not the Hotel). I rapidly review our last fifteen minutes conversation to see if I've said anything rude, but think I'm OK. Ben is obviously a very nice chap and one with a task and a half on his hands. The Dower House, formerly derelict, has recently been restored. There are plans to make flats of 'Little Fawsley', but finance will have to be found. Firmness of purpose, boundless energy and a selective eye for enterprise must be daily requirements. Ben asks if I'm going to visit the church at Charwelton, and I say I am. He tells me I'll need to knock on the door of the stately farmhouse in order to get a key, but as it turns out there are other visitors there before me when I arrive.

It's a day for romantic, film-set, Austen/Bronte churches. Charwelton with its ancient packhorse bridge on the A361 Daventry road hasn't one of its own. Church Charwelton is more than half a mile way across the fields, near the lumpy bumpy nineteenth century railway spoil heaps along the route of the Jurassic Way. I find that if I were free on Christmas Eve, I could get myself a gig: they have no organist for the Midnight Mass. They have an electronic organ to which can be attached one of those gizmos which allow the operator to pick a tune, any tune, and deliver it for congregational accompaniment. However, last time out the system failed to work, so the little knot of people now assembled is hoping to find a solution. Which, judging by the Sounds of the Wurlitzer I hear a few minutes later while I'm sitting on the bench outside, they have. Christmas Eve is safe in the hands of the computer. It's better than nowt. But I think to myself how magical a midnight winter service could be here in this pluperfect setting, with a hard frost on the fields, a crystalline sky, and a few snowflakes falling as we emerge to embrace and welcome the Christ-child once again. It's quite tempting.

There are sheepy fields to be crossed under lowering skies on the return to what the fingerposts still describe as 'Woodford cum Membris'. A study this week purports to tell us that sheep are cleverer than we knew. Apparently they've shown great skill at recognising the faces of Barack Obama and Fiona Bruce. Given the above averagely baleful News of recent days, I'd have thought a better headline might be 'Humans more stupid than previously thought'.

Rings among the bling:  16 km. 5 hrs. 11 degrees. Weather: variable but not as sunny as forecast. No precipitation. Light wind. 5 stiles. 14 gates. 3 bridges.

Remembrance 1939-45

I think
That if not for the final sacrifice of so many
And a few miracles from You
I would not today be able to walk where I please
Or write what I think
Or worship freely with my family and friends.
I thank them.
And I thank You.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Landscape challenge

                                                  What a difference a week makes...

How I miss Channel 4's Time Team : the stripey enthusiasm of the late Mick Aston, the puppyish bounce of Tony Robinson (maybe at his best here, as with Blackadder, part of a distinguished team), the dry cynicism of John Gater, the amused rationalism of Carenza Lewis, the folksy charm and surprisingly solid academic values of Phil Harding, and yes, the insightful, thoughtful input of Stewart Ainsworth, assessing a landscape for what it might have been rather what it seems to be now.

I'm assessing a landscape too in this blog, though a human one - the landscape of the Church of England, trying to see what might lie under the surface of an institution I think I know so well, dropping by all the churches in the Diocese of Peterborough one by one. I'm trying to place them in context, and see what may become of us all as the twenty-first century progresses. There are more than 400 churches to visit, and I'm nearly half way through my Long Walk.

Part of the fun along the way is the sheer pleasure of map-reading - getting from one place to another by the best route for me on a particular day, matching the printed page to the unfolding landscape of my adopted home county. The Ordnance Survey Maps in all the glory of their detail and reliability are an absolute treasure.

Going south-east on a characteristically wide Northamptonshire lane from Moreton Pinkney, the metalled road turns right at the magnificently named 'Grumbler's Holt'. I'd like it to be a place where someone lugubrious once took a  breather, but apparently the reference is more prosaic: a grumbler was a badger, and a holt was its sett. I say the lane is wide, but by that I mean the width between the hedges on either side. The tarmac road is less than half the width: the carts of previous centuries could only make progress through the mud with a greater space, and if two happened to pass each other, it was more difficult to manoeuvre the ancient wagons than today's cars. Mind you, the gigantic articulated Calor Gas tanker which has just drawn up by the building where I turn left onto Banbury Lane would have proved hard to squeeze past on any single track country road. The driver's leaning on his cab as I approach. He's looking woebegone. Someone's stood him up. He's of eastern European origin. I say hello. "Is of you?" he asks, gesturing at the building and its locked gates. I regret that it isn't, and he sighs. He looks as if he could badly do with a smoke, but unfortunately, given his occupation, this possible is not.

In a couple of hundred metres I turn onto another old drover's road, the Oxford Lane, which winds pleasantly through the trees. That this was once a significant route can be seen by the deep ditches set back in the undergrowth on either side, although these disappear as the bridleway emerges into fields. I hold close to the left hand hedge before clambering over a stile and heading on a diagonal over a lumpy field to the little church of St. John the Baptist, Plumpton, with its scrubbed, boxy pews. If there was ever much to Plumpton, there ain't much now: just a manor house survives. There must have been enough of a village to make it worthwhile for Jesus College Oxford to invest fifty quid in the rebuilding of the church in 1822. It looks like a Conservation Trust church, but there are hymn numbers on the board: someone has been singing O Jesus I have promised recently, which seems apt. There's an electronic organ too.

I have a soft spot for Jesus College Oxford. When I was a teacher, the Northampton School for Boys would send a cricket team of masters and boys to Oxford one Wednesday each May, an inheritance of the days when it was the 'Town and County Grammar'. Those mid-nineteen seventies were gentler times, dear readers, although even then, Mayhem was often found stalking the corridors at Billing Road. But that's another story. I made the trip a couple of times. The first occasion saw my off-stump clinically removed before I'd scored by a rather good quick bowler called Meehan who was playing Minor Counties cricket as well as for his college. The second time I redeemed myself by scoring fifty on a lushly wet and humid day, but I have a feeling Meehan wasn't playing, and anyway the match was abandoned at tea. But I digress.

I can either walk on from Plumpton to Weston by lane or fieldpath, so of course I choose the latter. At the third field a herd of cattle blocks the way, so I revert to Plan A, arriving in Weston by the road which skirts the Hall where once the Sitwell family lived, Sacheverell and Edith of that ilk. I know I should have but I haven't. My education is lacking in respect of all those very English writers of the mid-twentieth century, but I'm not giving up hope. I read Jane Austen's Persuasion on holiday a fortnight ago, and for the first time her humour and style opened up for me. Perhaps I shall be a late-flowering Bloomsbury.

I know there's a good pub in Weston, but shucks, it's not open. Because the clocks have gone back, I'm walking earlier in the day, and the fish van's only just arrived: The Crown's not into serving morning coffee. Well, you wouldn't, not out here. There couldn't possibly be enough takers to make it worthwhile: Weston has a somewhat isolated air about it. The isolation is an illusion however, because really the village is part of a ribbon development which leads up the hill into Weedon Lois.

I love this moniker. There's that thing about American names, isn't there, where it seems a bit random as to which is the given name and which the family name. Anstruther Pyewackett III or Pyewackett Anstruther III? It could be either. Well, so it is with Weedon Lois, which is sometimes referred to as Lois Weedon - who you might suppose to be a Superhero's moll. At one time the village was Weedon Pinkney. Before you get into the village proper, you pass through Milthorpe which is interpreted on the ground as 'Middlethorpe' - presumably halfway between Weston and Weedon. Weedon apparently means 'temple on a hill' and the Lois part I at first think might be a dedication to St. Eligius, a French bishop and friend of the poor.

On the web there are references to the Weedon Lois 'temple' as Anglo-Saxon in origin, but that seems rather unlikely to me. I suppose it might be a reference to an early Christian church hidden under the current one, but more appealing is the thought that there's a folk memory of a Roman temple, part of an earlier settlement where the medieval church now sits by the castle mound. The present day road describes a neat semicircle around the site. As I walk into St. Mary and St. Peter's - an unusual combination - I surprise Sue who's been arranging some flowers. She apologises unnecessarily for the slight derangement to the church interior. It's having a minor post-quinquennial makeover. Sue sheds some light on the church at Plumpton. Her husband was involved with a Trust which has kept it open. There are half a dozen services there each year. We talk a little about how history, tradition and finance interact, and the difficulties our long, rural diocese faces.

Inside the church, you instantly know there's a bit more to this place than an average parish church. The proportions are wrong. The nave's short, the chancel too long, such that for contemporary worship the 'working' altar with its lovely, lively altar cloth has been pitched forward, leaving a narrow choir which stretches onto a space before the high altar. This was a Priory church, and looking it up later on, the village name may be a later dedication not to St. Loy (Eligius) but to St. Lucien, an earlier Romano-French saint whose devotee monks pitched up in Weedon in later medieval times. The nearby spring, which one could speculate might have been the occasion of any putative Roman temple, became a place of healing pilgrimage. Opposite the church, across the road, is a 'new' cemetery, where a memorial to Edith Sitwell looks out over the wide valley beyond. This has been an evocative, holy place down through the generations. I love the overwhelming sense that I now worship as a representative of the great cloud of witnesses who've celebrated and struggled with their faith in a place like this over the centuries.

Up the hill, over the road, onto a bridleway, down the far side with sweeping views to left and right following horsey and human footprints to the stream at the bottom. There's a bridge, and through the gate on the far side another herd of cattle. A bull is facing me full-on, horns and all, head lowered. He even gives a little paw of the ground, to make sure I know he means business, or perhaps just to show off his manliness to the host of adoring female companions. The field is long and thin. It stretches away to either side of me along the stream. I need to cross the short way to the continuation of the path beyond another gate fifty metres away. I pause. Consider options. I retreat and track along the stream, hidden behind the hedge. I can see the herd follow me on the far side of the thorns. Bertie the bull is making good speed with the kind of jaunty, bouncing trot you see in rhinos on the move. They're going much faster than me. I suddenly change direction, double back to the gate, and am satisfied to see the herd has now taken residence at the far end of the field, a couple of hundred metres away. I can safely cross into a field of brassica where the bridleway mysteriously disappears. Did I dupe my bovine friends, or were they just seeking a little privacy to do what Noel Coward suggested? I don't know. Nor do I know why you'd leave a bull in a field through which horses and riders regularly pass. Maybe Bertie's a really friendly chap, as bulls go, and had just spent a bit of time in acting school, mugging up personal presentation skills, in order to become a higher net worth individual.

Woodend is where the wood once ended (duh!), in this case Whittlebury Forest. Not much louder than a mosquito whine, the sound of the Silverstone race track is just about audible on this very still day. There was a Baptist chapel here, now remade into a house with a nod at its former life in the shape of some bright stained glass windows. The cemetery next door remains well-kept, with some graves as recent as the early nineteen nineties, so I guess there was still a congregation meeting here then. Beyond Woodend the road curves downhill with the Hall on the left until the traveller reaches Blakesley over the redundant railway bridge. When there was still a station here, there was at one time also a miniature track to convey lordly visitors and their luggage back to the Hall.

Blakesley is quite a place. It still has a Post Office, always a mark of superiority. It used to have a rather famous annual soapbox derby down its sloping main street. There's a charming little Reading Room, a large village school by the green, a garage with a separate showroom, a business offering personal training and clinical massage, and a lady who makes soft toys under the title of 'Blakesley Bears'.  As I walk to St. Mary's church her car draws up beside me with a very large fluffy example of her handiwork in the passenger seat. A young chap is hauling a flag of St. George up the church tower supervised by his gaffer, a man in his sixties. 'Well, you've got to, this time of the year', he remarks to some workmen doing a bit of walling by the dame school in the churchyard. I think to myself:  'Do we have to?' What price the Church of England?

One thing Blakesley hasn't got at the moment is a pub. The sign outside The Bartholomew Arms promises food and drink every day at lunchtime, but at a moment of need for me and another passing motorist, the doors are locked and bolted. According to the Blakesley Bears lady (who judging from their website may be called Lizzie), the new owners have taken fright and given back the keys. In Moreton Pinkney the story seems superficially similar. The Four Candles - oh, what a lot you have to answer for Ronnie Barker! - opened in July 2016 after years of dereliction, but closed just a year later. So in six hours of walking today there wasn't a single hostelry to be found open. It's not only churches that have difficulty in getting people through the doors.

Marks on the bark: 20 km. 6 hrs. 11 degrees C. No breeze at all. Sky a pearlescent grey with occasional tinges of muted purply blue. Happy morning birdsong. Squirrels and rabbits. 3 stiles. 16 gates. 3 bridges. More walking on lanes and hard bridleways than usual.

I'm becoming confused
And I wonder whether my confusion is shared.
I worship You each week in church.
With others.
And I try to keep up my own apology for a prayer life.
Just me and You.
In the age of
The Internet and of
Time Shifted Television and of
Constant Worldwide Reflexivity of
Fake News
What does all this 'shared experience'
Mean for our celebration of You?

Bind us together, Lord
Bind us together
With cords that cannot be broken.
Bind us together with love.