Saturday, 26 January 2019

Low Gear

The weather is wonderful, absolutely clear, a dusting of white on the green wherever the ground is exposed, laying bare the contours, the temperature hovering around zero but with little wind chill. However the cold's obviously got to my brain. It isn't functioning properly. Before leaving home, I dither, fussing about what to take with me. I dither again at Rothwell, thinking I'll have a coffee at 'Bewiched' on Market Hill, but then ditching the idea when I find the square fully parked. What are so many people doing in the middle of Rothwell at ten o'clock on a Wednesday morning? Perhaps they pack 'em in at Holy Trinity's midweek communion.

A more serious misjudgement further up the A6 at The Hermitage. The back lane to Brampton Ash is covered in black ice, and the Audi slithers uncertainly along it. I quickly realise that for such a narrow thoroughfare it's heavily trafficked: the reinforced but crumbling margins of the road bear testimony to that. And of course though some drivers are perfectly aware of the treacherous conditions, others, oblivious of danger, hustle past, impatient of my wariness.

I park by the entrance to St. Mary's church field. The church's tall spire will be a landmark for most of the day's walk, a significant siting, and although there's no more snow than the heaviest of hoar frosts, it lies thicker here than anywhere else. The tarmac on the little hill down into the valley affords no grip for my boots. I take to the verges as the cars pile past.

Near the 'Red Hovel' (see left) I turn onto the Macmillan Way up towards the woods. In March it will be fifty years since my mum died of breast cancer, an event which has determined more of my life than I admit most of the time. She was nearly twenty winters younger than I am now when she passed away, and how I still regret the time taken from her, despite the would-be-comforting religious clichés, the things she might have done, the denial of her calling to be a teacher, the fact that she never knew her grandson, at least not in this life. We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Or at least, we try to.

At the top of the hill - and there will be eight of them today (OK I know it's not exactly Kanchenjunga, but everybody's got to start somewhere) - the Macmillan crosses the Jurassic Way. I turn prehistorically in the direction of Stoke Albany. And then, gosh darn it, I'm misled by a wonky fingerpost, and track back down the hill way too far, looking for a non-existent gap in the hedge. Hence the second climb of the day, eventually to discover the correct line of the Jurassic by a sheepy field whose occupants look pityingly at me, as sheep in a certain mood will do.

                                                                    Yeah, right!

Once across the new and old A427's, the village of Stoke Albany is pretty and peaceful, with its Middle Lane, Chapel Lane and Bottom Lane. The church of St. Botolph's is set lower even than Bottom Lane, on a little green, the verge opposite covered in snowdrops. I perch on a bench for the first sarni of the day, see a headstone prominently positioned by the church porch in the name of Swingler, and wonder what the story was. (According to the web, there've been Swinglers in the locality since at least 1792!)

Stoke Albany and Wilbarston are so close you can almost reach out from the one to touch the other. The lane goes straight round to Wilbarston's All Saints church, hidden in the trees on a promontory at the village edge. It too is closed for business, but I can see from the notices at the south door that the parish is enthusiastic about conserving their churchyard for the wildlife. Up the other end of the village, there's sometimes been a different sort of wild life. Wilbarston Village Hall, capacity 250/300, ('the village hall that likes to think it's a stadium') acquired a reputation over thirty years for hosting regular concerts by exponents of guitar-driven blues rock. The roll-call of professional artists who came to perform here is impressive, from blues veterans like Walter Trout (great name but is it real?) to proto-heavy metallers like Robin Trower and Pat Travers. The Hamsters were regular visitors too. For twenty-five years they played up and down Britain, sometimes 300 gigs a year, marathon runners of the rock scene, until in 2012 they hung up their Fenders and Gibsons, and so it was farewell to 'Snail's Pace Slim' and the 'Rev. Otis Elevator'. We shall not see their like again. Thankfully for the hearing of Wilbarston residents, the Hall stands a little apart from the housing, looking north towards Leicestershire and Rutland from an apparently lofty position above the valley. The gigs seem to have bitten the dust too, though last year John Otway and Wild Willy Barrett stirred themselves to entertain the troops one evening. If you're unfamiliar with these two eccentric luminaries of English rock n'roll, they're worth checking out. Once heard or seen, not easily forgotten. I earn no advertising revenue from this site!!

I trundle back down the hill past All Saints musing over lack of accessibility, about which I know I habitually moan (I'm on a bad trot here: the last half dozen churches visited have all been shut). My whingeing has a different perspective today though, since I've just learned that St. Peter's, my own church, was broken into in recent days, although it appears nothing of actual or sentimental value was taken. You can't blame PCCs or incumbents for not wanting to take risks with what is precious. The same feelings of violation that apply to us as householders when we're burgled, can hold for congregations, regardless of what is stolen or damaged. On the other hand, if someone wants or needs temporary spiritual sanctuary in a holy place, ringing a keyholder for access may not quite cut it. And anyway not all churches publicly list where a key may be found. Even my intentions as a 'pilgrim' may not match those of the casual tourist. But it also has to be said that each of the four villages I pass through today has a pub, and not one of those is open either - at least at lunchtime!

Below All Saints, Brig Lane curves round in the direction of two-mile distant Ashley. Was the 'Brig' (you'll perhaps remember me encountering something similar near Loddington last autumn) the local clink, or is it a corruption of the little bridge I shortly cross? At the outset of the bridleway I pass a sign I've never seen before, a local council proscription on equestrian traffic because there's a badger sett further along and the track's surface has collapsed. And so it proves. Mr and Mrs Brock and the Brockettes are nowhere in sight, but the evidence of their labour is manifest, although at this point I snort with scepticism as to the difficulty a competent rider might have in navigating the earthworks. 'Bridleway' can mean a number of things, and what I've not factored into my energy output and timing today is that there are a few points when the track just becomes a marked way across a claggy, planted field. Uphill too. The clay just here is very heavy, and carrying a few extra pounds weight on each boot I haul myself to the top of the rise, eventually rewarded with a great view of Ashley village below me.

Hallelujah! St. Mary the Virgin's is open. With its large Hall and substantial buildings the whole of Ashley looks prosperous, and inside its church the considerable style is maintained. The man responsible for that was Sir George Gilbert Scott, the immensely hard-working Victorian architect, and designer of London's Albert Memorial. I'm guessing he may not have handled every one himself, but over 800 buildings lay claim to have been designed or renovated by him. In Ashley he seems to have tidied up all of the previous structure to some degree, but then really let himself go on the chancel, lengthening and heightening it, and commissioning designs for the sumptuous decoration of the walls and ceiling. Rather than me trying to do it justice - go and see for yourself. And let's hope that the churchwardens' enterprise in keeping the place open is encouraged once the benefice has a new incumbent. It may be that the Victorians (Oxford Movement and all that) were trying to 'revive' a High Anglicanism which never existed in the sixteenth century as they believed it did ( a perspective I owe to Diarmaid MacCullough) but the fabric of countless numbers of our church buildings wouldn't be as striking without their input. For all that the nineteenth century aesthetic sometimes fails to match ours, we should be grateful.

                                                      North side of the Chancel: Ashley

It's fascinating to see how at any one time so many parishes are without a priest. Perhaps it's a matter of cash (and the diocese is saving money the longer vacancies run). Perhaps there aren't enough new vocations - and that's certainly true among younger people. At the moment! Whether it's a matter of fashion or 'God's time', such a thing can quickly change. In the meantime the lay people buckle to and mind the homestead, sometimes with distinction and success, sometimes not. Now here's an issue for (principally!) any clergy reading this to consider. As an occupational group, as I know from personal experience, musicians sometimes yield to the feeling that they're 'chosen ones'; that they possess a gift which sets them apart from ordinary folk (perhaps, swapping callings we could label this the 'Mourinho Syndrome' ) It's total tosh, of course. We may be privileged to be able to earn money from a God-given gift, but superior human beings we are not. Sometimes clergy give the unfortunate impression that they feel the same about what they do, that they're separated and special, superior rather than privileged. They may talk the talk that lay people have vocations too (and spiritual gifts - 1 Corinthians and all that), but they seem not to walk the walk, when it comes to the crunch. Is that unfair?

Over more soggy ground and fields of clay, I toil my way to the top of another hill, and then here I am in Sutton Bassett, where on a bend in the main road to Uppingham I find the chapel of All Saints. There's no graveyard, just a tiny green patch with a seat to admire the honey-coloured stone. The the downside. I now have to struggle back up the hill to rejoin the Macmillan Way as it returns to Brampton Ash, this time in company with the Midshires Way. I'm in some discomfort and wonder if my hips are showing age damage. I'm almost immobile at one point on the only moderate upslope. I creak towards the car as the light begins to fade. I've judged it just about OK, but with maybe only ten minutes to spare before dusk properly falls. For the first time in a while I feel vulnerable as I walk. The battery on my phone gave up the ghost at Ashley. I have to pass another badger sett straddling the track towards Brampton, and this time see the danger more clearly. Some of the holes just drop vertically from the path a couple of feet. Carelessness could too easily result in a broken leg or ankle, and what would I do then, space blanket or no, with no means of calling for help?

Anglican Weakly: 21 km. 6.3 hrs. 0-2 degrees C. Unbroken sun throughout. Little in the way of breeze. A tough walk, by my standards. 5 stiles. 17 gates. 1 bridge. 8 hills 4 churches. One open. No one, but no one else out enjoying the countryside - or on the street in the villages.

I'm a token of the type.
So many ways
To enjoy myself.
To find
Personal validation.
So much reluctance
To serve.
Raise up among us
Women and men
With vocations
To make your Kingdom
In this winter world.

Monday, 21 January 2019

And it's from the old I travel to the new...

Crisp and clear by the church at Cranford's 'Duck End'. There's a slick of ice on the road where the dustcart manoeuvres and a sprinkling of fairy dust snowflakes on the Jaguar parked by the shadowy wall. Why were the ducks this end of the village and not the other? Cranford takes its name from 'cranes'. So where are the cranes? I want to see some cranes, daddy! Perhaps the ancients meant herons. There are none fishing the river today: it's been too dry.

I open the gate and walk across cropped grass towards the Ise. On the far bank a few Lowry dogs and their owners stud the fields. We cross paths at the footbridge and say hello, and I continue eastwards with the chilly wind at my back into Twywell's 'Hills and Dales' country park. It does nicely as advertised. There are shallow ironstone quarry workings to be explored up and down, and there's a semi-circular railway cutting. A sculpture from the rescued quarried stone confronts me, carved with vaguely runic inscriptions and indentations. Not bothering to extract compass from rucksack I wander about, directionally confused, and on the open heathland of the park have to consult a couple of locals for a heading. Should I believe the fingerposts or not? One of those consulted says I'll find the village more or less whichever way I go. Hmm...

But I do. Twywell's a more-or-less-one-street place. I emerge at the top end and walk down to St. Nicholas' church. I can't get in, and sit in the porch a moment, gazing at the long list of diocesan requests for payment of the parish share going back maybe fifteen years, with the accompanying statements of the percentages actually contributed. It's never been 100% (sometimes v. substantially less), and I wonder why such a litany of failure should be publicly displayed. Is it to shame the parish into doing its bit, or to cock a snook at central authority? If either of these theories seems unlikely, I have to say there's at least one parish of which I'm aware where drastic non-payment seems almost to be worn as a badge of honour. Let's be clear, as politicians say when they most wish to obfuscate, my purpose here is to say we all belong together, so I'm not going to be uber-sympathetic where our fellowship is flagrantly compromised. So there!

Horace Waller was once Rector of Twywell in his declining years towards the end of the nineteenth century. As a younger man he'd travelled widely in Africa as a missionary, and knew Livingstone well, later writing what is said to be an over-generous biography of the better known man. Waller continued to carry the anti-slavery torch at a time when the trade was still flourishing in obscure parts of the continent. Once at Twywell, he seems to have become increasingly prolific as an author. One of his works is entitled: 'Ivory, apes and peacocks: an African contemplation', and another: 'Health hints for Central Africa'. This turned out to be his greatest hit. The book ran to five editions.

I try to walk the pretty way to Slipton, but miss the path, and almost rubbing noses with some alpacas, heave myself over a fence to regain the road at the end of the Twywell houses. Slipton's nobbut a step away, and I arrive in it close to the Samuel Pepys pub. There's a Pepys Cottage opposite, so I'm assuming a village connection to this great observer of seventeenth British (London!) life, though subsequently I haven't found one. Then again, Pepys had a great liking for pubs and coffee-houses, so maybe the name of Slipton's hostelry is in simple homage to that. I look for the tiny village church, St. John the Baptist's, but can't find it until as I retrace my steps along the Sudborough road I see it in a field away to my left. It's a charming, removed setting for a chapel which presumably lost its roofs centuries ago, for now they're flat and there's no tower or spire. In the churchyard I almost literally stumble across the simplest of memorial stones which dates from 1992 and says 'Michael de la Noy: biographer'. Two or three years ago I read his excellent account of Elgar's life (that's Edward the composer, m'dears, and not Dean, the South African cricketer). And his Wikipedia entry triggers the vaguest of teenage memories. As a younger man he was press secretary to the saintly-looking Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, but in 1970 was fired 'after writing an article in support of a bisexual and transvestite colonel, which was seen as too liberal for the Church of England...'. Notwithstanding he went on to write Ramsey's biography too (though perhaps not officially sanctioned?), as well as one of the Queen Mother, and much else besides.

A single, probably juvenile, red kite inspects me curiously as I exit the churchyard. Too big for your lunch, boy! I wish I could say that the onward path to Grafton Underwood is a pleasure but can't really. It makes its way over fields for a couple of miles on the slightest of inclines, crossing numerous drainage ditches on ground of moderate clag. At home we're watching the American version of 'House of Cards', so as I walk, the image of Kevin Spacey as the criminally cynical Francis Underwood floats before my eyes, on his way to the US Presidency. Life imitating art, or the other way round?  Spacey's a wonderful actor, for all that he's done some pretty bad things himself. Allegedly.

Of course much experience is coloured by contrast, and perhaps Grafton is all the more wonderful because the walked approach to it is a bit of a slog. In the early afternoon sunshine it presents as the pluperfect English country settlement, thatched cottages flanking a glistening stream flowing down the main street where ducks swim, feed, and preen themselves. In fact the legend by the speed sign says, with definitive Anglo-Saxon allusion: For duck's sake, slow down!' 

Go back nearly eighty years, and into this charming piece of Olde Englande came the Americans. In 1942 an RAF base just up the road was allocated to the USAF. First came Boston light bombers, and then the heavier, impressive B-17s, and they took off from Grafton to degrade the German facilities in Rouen and the Low Countries. One of the pilots stationed here for a while later flew the mission to Hiroshima which ended Japanese resistance and brought the Second War to a close with a cataclysmic, world-altering nuclear bang. It's now a very quiet January day in this sleepy Northamptonshire village, and I find the thought of these events, so distant and yet so much a part of the mindscape of our generation, intensely moving - the side by side existence of rural tranquillity and cutting-edge military technology, of Northamptonshire burr and variety of American accent, a new world colliding with the old. That 'shock of the new' cliché has been with us ever since, but perhaps in the current political turmoil, as both left and right look back nostalgically, the one to days of Marxist triumphalism, the other to 'true' British independence, we're feeling its real force for the first time. Do we move forward and forget completely what we were before? Or do we assimilate inevitable global change into a pre-existing framework? Are humans changing themselves from Mark 1 to Mark 2 with the advent of social media and AI? The church of St. James the Apostle with its lovely window of remembrance is shut, and sitting on the bench outside I can't focus my thoughts into any kind of prayer. I'm worried for what will be, which as always we little people can do almost nothing to prevent or promote.

                                           Primroses and daffs: Cranford: January 17th

Dairy Express:  16 km. 4.7 hrs. 2-4 deg C. Pretty much cloudless sky throughout. North-west wind dying into the afternoon. 3 stiles. 22 gates. 11 little bridges. Going: tacky after limited precipitation in recent days. But this is still a very dry January after a very mild autumn.


Two stories with countryside interest in The Times these past few days.

1. Lost footpaths. 'Time running out to save lost walks'. In fact there are countless footpaths marked on the nation's OS maps, and as I understand it, there can be no threat to most of these, though perhaps some local authorities are too easily persuaded to allow diversions to suit developers or landowners. And as I've mentioned before (probably too many times!) sometimes ingenuity and a good geographical sense are required to find the route on the ground where fingerposts and stiles have been removed or allowed to fall into terminal disrepair. Those who do this should be sanctioned. It's also true that in some areas of this county, and presumably other counties too, there's a strange and irksome lack of rights-of-way, perhaps due to ancient enclosures or even the Second War. But extracting from the diaries of the great and good anecdotal evidence of rambles which Virginia Woolf or Eric Ravilious may once have enjoyed in their youth, isn't going to get us very far. The answer's simple. Get your boots on, baby, and walk the paths you can see on the map. Go for the low fruit!

2. Pheasants. They're beautiful birds and a glory of our winter countryside. And they're very nice to eat. Which means one way or another they have to be shot. If it's true there's such blood-lust among our feckless rich that birds are massacred for no reason to do with the dinner table, then of course that's a scandal, and those responsible should be ashamed of themselves. But then again, we have to beware of covert lobbying by particular interest groups...

Dear Lord

I had a shock last Sunday.
That woman I used to see
On the pavement by the newsagent's
Next to St. James' church...
She died.
January 2nd.
Didn't want to use the shelters
In central Northampton.
Apparently she didn't feel safe.
I'd said hello
Once or twice.
But that was all.
Never stopped to find out
Why she was there.
She might not have told me.
Might have spent anything I'd given her
So I feel bad.
And angry too,
That our politicians' focus is elsewhere.
'God help the lost and lonely
God help the poor
Cold days and ice nights only
Hard times for sure' (Steve Forbert) 
And dear God, help me to be better
Next time.
(For there will be a next time).

R.I.P. 'Jerica'

Saturday, 12 January 2019

Spinning a few 45s

Welcome to 2019. Looks like it could be a bumpy ride. Maybe it's the prospects for that which have kept me awake the last two nights. I'm very groggy and heavy-legged as I park the car by St. Mary's Weekley on a sparkling morning and climb the stile onto still-frosty grass in the field beside the wall of the Boughton Estate. On the far side of the wall the Boughton Herd, black and dun and perhaps 200 strong, munch contentedly, most of them, as animals do, feeding with their bottoms facing the chilly prevailing wind of the day. One or two raise their heads and sniff suspiciously in my direction, although I'm a couple of hundred metres distant and separated from them by twelve feet of brick.

 When I'm awake at night I try to use the wee-small-hours telly to bore me back to slumber. Last night a lamentable documentary eventually did the trick. Someone thought that sending sixties' electric folkie Donovan back to the Indian ashram he once shared with The Beatles would be a great idea. Wrong. Donovan now looks as if he's being played by Nigel Planer, and his singing isn't much better than Planer's would be. Maybe it was a spoof, and it really was Nigel Planer. The claims made for the transcendental spirituality of Hurdy Gurdy Man were frankly ridiculous, and the now deserted and ruined ashram looked sad. However meditation has kept Donovan and his wife together over many decades, and there were some useful nods at the concept of 'letting go'. I know how tightly I cling to the past. What will we have to 'let go' as individuals, as a nation, as a Church, in the next twelve months? (see my comments in this blog after the Vote of June 2016).  I'm properly fearful.

The curse of the mobile phone. I receive some potentially hurtful news from a client as I walk on towards Geddington on the bridleway, and although it was brilliantly sunny as I left Weekley, there's a cloud over my spirit as well as the village when I pitch up in Geddington's main street. However there's enough about this place to distract and restore perspective. We used to whizz past on the old A43, the Stamford road long ago diverted to avoid the river crossing with its lengthy ford, but I've never actually stopped to look. I watch as a Ford Transit justifies its name by successfully ploughing through the Ise's waters, smug satisfaction on the driver's face at completing this permitted transgression. Our Polo could just about squeeze between the guardian posts on the lovely old bridge beside the ford, though at risk to its wing mirrors. There are two pubs still open, a hairdresser's, and a Post Office which sports an ancient sign promising customers the delights of 'confectionary' (sic). Geddington is a sizeable village still, and St. Mary Magdalene's church is an impressive building. As of February 3rd they'll have a new Priest-in-Charge, Gillian Gamble. And every time she walks up the church path, she'll pass the best of the surviving original 'Eleanor Crosses'. (There are two others - at Hardingstone and Waltham Abbey. The one at London's Charing Cross is a replica.) You know the story - one of the most touching memorials to love. Eleanor of Castile, wife of Edward the First, died in 1290 at the age of 49. The marriage may have once been in the service of Franco-English diplomacy, but it became one of deep affection, and when she passed away near Lincoln, the bereft King ordered that crosses be erected at every one of the twelve places the cortege stopped on its progress back to London. Most of them have gone now, but here three statues of Eleanor still gaze down somewhat sepulchrally on passers-by. I drop into bright, cheerful Oak Café for a coffee and lemon drizzle cake, served by Linda. Bernie, the owner is labouring away at the back, preparing sandwiches. I'm the only customer on a late Wednesday morning, but January's a funny time, as someone was saying on the morning radio about retail in Stockport. People don't want to go out to shop when it's cold.

This Saturday (12th Jan) there's to be a 'Twelfth Night Wassail Party' in the village. It says so in the church porch. Am I being too sensitive in complaining that society has become so secular it now thinks 'Twelfth Night' refers to the New Year and not Christmas? Happy Holidays everyone!

I walk the lane out of the village to the west, passed by snorting forty-tonners squeezing their way through the parked cars, and pick up the bridleway which twists and turns up a mild gradient until Little Oakley appears below me, nestled down into a hollow as a Cotswold village might be. A pair of red kites, each with perhaps a metre of wing span, circle and plummet, the A10 tankbusters of the ornithological world, but not so well camouflaged against the winter sky, beautiful russet, black and white. Little Oakley is empty of people, and the church, without a sign, its windows invaded by ivy, its porch clagged by leaves and mast, looks almost as sad as a sixties' Indian ashram. Later I find that in 2016 there was an application to turn the thirteenth century church of St. Peter into a three-bedroom dwelling, but whether that's been taken further since then I can't find out. At the time the Northamptonshire Telegraph commented that 'eerily' the future householders would have to live 'surrounded by gravestones' because they wouldn't be able to have title to the churchyard. Go figure. What should they be allowed to do? Grub up the headstones and replace them with decking and barbecues? I'd have thought any self-respecting thirty-something Goths would love the Doomy vibe. There are snowdrops already showing by the church wall, and I'll take that as a sign that Little Oakley's church will find good use soon. Spring flowers are much further forward than last year. There were even some primroses visible round the sheltered sides of the moat at Wells Cathedral last week.

                    Little Oakley: 'nestled down into a hollow as a Cotswold village might be'

I follow the stream across the fields towards Great Oakley. In a mile the path crosses under first the by-pass for the original Geddington by-pass, if you follow me, and then the railway line from Kettering to Corby and on to Oakham, a service that's expanding with time. Corby used to be exceptionally ill-served by the railway, perhaps on the basis that no true Scot thought London had anything to offer. Then from 2009 an hourly train was provided, and this may become half-hourly in the next year or so. Accordingly the housing is pushing outwards from Corby into the countryside. The latest claim from Shelter is that we need to build three million houses to meet the supposed shortfall in the stock. Really? That would be an increase of at least one-ninth to the existing national provision, and would assume an ongoing average occupancy per dwelling of not much  more than two people. At a time when there's real poverty out there, it would be nice to see Shelter concentrate on the essentials, and not being slave to political or commercial propaganda, which has more to do with mitigating difficulties elsewhere in the economy. But long-time readers have heard me on this before.

St. Michael's, Great Oakley, is a bit of weird affair, location-wise, sitting a little way out of the old hamlet, and stiflingly close to the 'Big House', but their self-description on achurchnearyou looks promising and maybe the gracious setting is a selling point for those wanting an escape from deeply urban Corby and its surrounds. Our national Church's buildings are such a marketing and emotional asset, and the more ancient, the better, if we can keep them well-maintained. I was inside Moulton's parish church a few weeks ago, and its refurbishment is a model of what can be achieved, comfortable and warm, multi-purpose without doing violence to the core architecture. Dealing with the gritty problems of everyday twenty-first century living is all very well, and some town centre churches do a fantastic job among the poor and needy, but it can be very hard to develop a sense of the numinous on a housing estate or in a shopping mall, sometimes requiring a refined, poetic nose for metaphor.

I pick my way across the parkland of the Great Oakley estate, and though I can negotiate my way back under the soon-to-be-electrified railway, the path diverts annoyingly back to a road bridge to cross high over the dual carriageway. At first I'm puzzled by some notices pinned to the railings beside me and assume they're romantic notes - the equivalents of the keys often hung  on continental river bridges. With a shock I realise the notes have a serious, sadder purpose, intended to make any potential 'jumpers' think twice before killing themselves. Do the notes originate in personal experience, or are they just for the greater good?

I give up walking to Newton off-road (the path is now three sides of a rectangle) and dodge cars and litter up the lane instead. First I see a London Records single of Bobby Vee's Take good care of my baby' lying on the verge, but it's scratched and anyway my first girlfriend Rosemary always preferred John Leyton, so I leave it for the fairies. Then a few hundred metres on I see Eddie Harris's (who?) 'Boogie Woogie Bossa Nova' (dented and broken), and then a quarter mile after that, Johnny and the Hurricanes ( now we're talking!) 'Down Yonder'. But the distribution of these ancient platters of plastic makes it clear that someone has deliberately 'sown' them from an open car window in some drug crazed anti-sixties revenge trip. Or perhaps it wasn't drugs but alcohol. Or just an extreme excess of caffeine. How else to account for the innumerable cans of Special Brew, Irn Bru, Red Bull and Coke also adorning the roadside? Much further on I stumble over Charlene's late seventies regrettable hit 'I've never been to me'. Enough already.

                                                   'Watching you?'  Evidently not.

Strolling into the little settlement of Newton brings to mind 'Fig Newton', Rumpole of the Bailey's occasional preferred private investigator in John Mortimer's amusing stories of barrister life. A 'fig newton' is a trademarked biscuit variant on a fig roll, but Rumpole's 'Fig' is nicknamed from his initials. The Northamptonshire Newton is sometimes known as 'Newton-in-the-Willows' from its proximity to the River Ise. The one time St. Faith's church is now a Field Studies Centre and there's a little nature reserve close to its front door. But in this lovely setting there are dark memories. In 1607 the local peasants rose up against enclosures. 47 of them were killed, often hung, drawn and quartered, pour decourager les autres. At its outset, the revolt was led by John Reynolds from Desborough, known as 'Captain Pouch' from the wallet that always hung at his side. He told the rebels no harm would come to them because of the pouch's contents: he carried authority from God and the King. The villains of the piece locally were the Tresham family who were vying with the Montagus of Boughton for control of land around Rockingham Forest. As they grabbed territory, hedging and ditching it, the rebels fought back by tearing down the planting and filling the dykes. A thousand people gathered in pitched battle at Newton in June 1607, but only one side was ever going to win. Reynold's pouch was found to contain nothing but mouldy cheese, and he was hanged, of course. The Montagu family went on by marriage to become the Buccleuchs. They still have vast holdings of land throughout Britain. The notice by the right of way at Weekley on the Boughton Estate tells me I must keep strictly to the path, with the implied threat that shooting is always in progress close by.

Pieces on the board:  18 km. 5.5. hrs. 5 degrees C. Early sun, then cloud and the possibility of a shower, clearing towards dusk with a beautiful sunset. A chilly breeze at times. Going: yielding and soft, though not claggy on the fields; firm and good on the tracks: little or no precipitation over the last fortnight. Four churches visited. Two still in use as places of worship. None open. 5 stiles. 27 gates. 2 bridges. 1 ford.

God, my God
Father and Mother
From your viewpoint
Wherever that is
Above our creaturely existence
Warp and weft of all that is
Seen and unseen,
Tell me
Whose side should I be on?
John Reynolds or the landowners?
And now if it isn't impertinent,
the more difficult ones.
Those fascists outside Parliament.
The make believe 'gilets jaunes'.
What if they appear in Northampton?
Do I sit idly by?
And what should my stance be
If some exploit the food banks
And then some politicians
Exploit their exploitation
For oppressive ends?
Should I be a doormat
Endure in silence
Let the chips fall where they will?
Lord, prevent us in all our doings.
Guide us, guard us, keep us, feed us.


For any new readers. Hello!

In April 2016 I began walking to every parish church (and redundant parish church) in the Diocese of Peterborough by a series of circular routes. My rule has been that each walk must start somewhere on the circumference of a previous one. The first walk began at my 'home' church, St. Peter's, Weston Favell, and the last one will end at Peterborough Cathedral, probably some time in early/mid 2020.

I'm now roughly two-thirds of the way there. I've visited every church in the southernmost of the two arch-diaconates (Northampton), and I'm just finishing my rambles around the old industrial belt which straddles Northamptonshire between Wellingborough and Corby.

It's been a fascinating project. I've learned an awful lot, and met some very splendid people. In this blog I've allowed myself to write about some of the town and country issues I've encountered, and publicly indulged in sharing a few of my interests and obsessions.

Most of all though, this has been about saying how much churches in our diocese need each other. We differ widely in our liturgical practice and theological nuance, but we all proclaim 'One Church, One Faith, One Lord', and we'd better mean it, because the World out there won't understand anything else, and there isn't enough money in the bank to sustain our every individual whim. We need to share - to really share.

I'm currently reading Diarmaid MacCullough's brilliant set of essays on the Reformation 'All Things Made New'. I highly recommend it. If you think you've got the Church of England down, after reading MacCullough's book, you'll probably realise you haven't. I wish I could write like him.

                                                    Dusk at St. Mary the Virgin, Weekley