Tuesday, 26 February 2019


Did I use to mind the cold? I don't think I did, not as much as I do now. These days it's sometimes hard to leave the bed-warmth, organise myself and take on the world during the heavy-legged winter months. If there's money to be made, maybe that long-ingrained incentive provides the extra percentage oomph I need, but when things are discretionary, as with this Big Diocesan Walk mullarkey, sometimes I feel disinclined to pull on the dayboots.

Ireland was referred to by the Romans as 'Hibernia' - not a name with much contemporary resonance, though it survives notably in the football club which has its home down Edinburgh's tough end, in Leith. The Romans seem to have adopted a Greek word for Britain's westerly reaches and changed it to something revelatory of their ambiguous wintry feelings about the place - love the minerals, hate the weather. And Julius Caesar went into print with a moan about our easterly island's rain and wind. But this February I have little excuse for hibernation. We're into a run of exceptionally mild, even record-breaking temperatures, and almost unbroken sun, aside from occasional fetching morning mist. So I'm in deadly sin territory, folks. What I'm experiencing is just pure, unalloyed sloth. (Which seems to be undergoing a BBC pronunciation makeover. When I hear about sloth on the wireless or box these days, in any of its meanings, the word rhymes with 'dishcloth', rather than 'both'. Me and my fancy southern ways.)

Driving to Wilbarston, I'm still in need of caffeine to start me up, and try dropping into East Carlton's Country Park for a fix of the good stuff from their cafĂ©. But it's half term and at 10.30 the place is already heaving. Heaving and  bad-tempered. A man in a four by four swears and finger points maniacally at me from the comfort of his air-conned cabin as I attempt to steer the Audi past him into the car park. I'm so puzzled I walk back to see if I've missed a sign telling me to behave myself. But no, there's nothing. 4x4 man was just having a bad hair day. Though since he was the wrong side of seventy and bald...

The fields south of Wilbarston are only mildly claggy, but I'm slow finding the path's correct route, and the gentle uphill gradient is more breathtaking than it should be till I gain the straight track which takes me to the site of wartime RAF Desborough. Supposedly nothing much happened here during '39-45 except 'training', but I've seen that kind of reference a few times around the county now, and assume the description means it was just a routine airfield catering for run-of-the-mill danger-laden bombing raids, rather than the more secret carpet-bagging stuff  which went on at Harrington. The concrete perimeter roads are still very much in evidence, and I walk down one of them towards the airfield's south-eastern boundary where, judging by the extent of the hard standing, the planes turned and were parked. Hedges still mark the lines of some of the runways.

Last evening I had a strange experience driving northwards along the M40 towards Oxford in the late twilight. Coming towards me at a relatively low airspeed and height, and following the line of the motorway, I could see two bright wing lights and the dark shape of a wide twin-engine 'plane, as if a Second War bomber, maybe a Whitley or a Manchester. It passed directly overhead, and for a moment I wondered whether it was in some trouble. The angle of the road and my own 70+ speed meant I could see nothing from my rear-view mirror once it was behind me. It was like meeting a ghost on the stairs. Maybe it was a spectral vision...

I walk through Pipewell Woods, past Monks' Arbour Wood, and into the hamlet of Pipewell. Across the fields by Pipewell Hall, I can see substantial mounds, which I presume are the earthly remains of Pipewell Abbey. The local landowner, Sir William Parre, wrote repeatedly to Thomas Cromwell begging for the Abbey's life, underscoring the unparalleled virtues of the Cistercian brothers, but to no avail. The destruction of monastic foundations was as much (more?) about increasing state revenue as it was about 'reformation' or abuse of ecclesiastical power, and Pipewell's fate was already sealed. Parre, like other landowners, did all right out of the sacking though. It's hard not to be affected both here and at the airfield by the 'thin-ness' of the place. As Eliot wrote so famously in 'Burnt Norton', following Heraclitus (who said 'the roads above and below are much the same thing', or something of the sort...) 'Time present and time past/Are both perhaps in time future/And time future contained in time past.../...What might have been and what has been/Point to one end, which is always present...' The dead airmen, the destitute monks, seem to be very close as one treads their respective ground.

Pipewell hosts what is reputedly the smallest church in the diocese, the 'Abbey Church of St. Mary'. It's low, angular and pretty in the sun opposite the little green with its village sign, but closed, and I don't know how often if at all it sees worship taking place. St. Mary's isn't at all ancient - a nineteenth century chapel of ease - but somehow Pipewell wouldn't be right without a Christian presence on the ground. The monks here, though a daughter foundation of places far away, once wielded considerable influence and evangelistic muscle around the county. I walk on up the road, past the 'Red House (now conspicuously white), and 'Carlton Purlieus'. I had to look up the word 'purlieu'. It's a forester's term for a tract of land once wooded on the edge of the greater forest - and of course here we are bang in the middle of the formerly hugely extensive Rockingham Forest. Even today the terrain is pleasantly sylvan.

                                Here's the remnant of a hedge nicely 'laid' a few decades back

And close by here's a length of machine-ripped hedgerow near Pipewell. It seems an impossibility to deal with every hedge the pretty way, but are we doing damage by letting machines do the work? Just a town boy asking...

I stop to consult my 'phone and jot down some notes at the hard-cored entrance to a field. An engine revs behind me, a yellow Council 'highway management' flatbed in a hurry for lunch. A woman 's voice intones dully from its open window, 'I'm turning here...' I look at her truculent face, and want to say out loud, 'And I'm blankety-blank standing here. So blankety what?' But my reply remains unspoken. This is what I walk for, to rid my system of its poison. Has Brexit coarsened us all, or is it a symptom of the increasing coarseness already within us? - for what reason? - because there are too many of us? the internet? Is Original Sin greater or at least more manifest during some eras than others? Or is it just a quality of humanity, a universal background hum, akin to being flesh and bone?

The road climbs and a long green track follows as I move in on Cottingham. As often happens when I've been walking for a while, a tune auto-repeats in my head, and because of my lie-abed behaviour this morning, today's tune is Fairport Convention's 'Sloth'. It carries powerful memories for me of musical revelation, the day (Nov 5th 1970 at Cambridge's Corn Exchange!) I started to watch drummers. The band's stick man was the peerless Dave Mattacks, whose accuracy, economy of movement and attention to detail I found fascinating. Ever since, when watching a band 'live', it's the drummer who draws my eye as much as the most flamboyant singer or guitarist, and it's drummers I like to record more than any other musician. If they're any good, that is. It's terribly frustrating if they're not.

I delay some golfers as I walk the path beside one of the Blackthorn Golf Club's fairways, and then cross a road to find myself in what at first looks like a straightforward hollow way down the grass slope towards Cottingham church. A couple of hundred metres further on the little valley widens and its sides become steeper, and are now dotted with snowdrops. It's a really lovely, special place. I sit in the warm sunshine by the front door of St. Mary Magdalene's and look one way at the churchyard tangle, and the other at the village as it drops away towards the bottom of the escarpment. Once this would have been a bustling little town. Now in tandem with its close westerly neighbour, Middleton, it functions as a sleepier dormitory for Corby. The services one might have formerly encountered - the smithy, the post office, bakers, grocers' shops, pubs - all are extinct or on the way to becoming so. The church is in good company, but at least it manages a weekly Sunday morning service ( two Eucharists a month, a family service, and hymns with coffee on the fourth). Middleton, a nineteenth century settlement, never had an Anglican church, but I expect the Methodists were thick on the ground. I walk there now, along a balcony path carrying the Jurassic way above the valley in the direction of distant Banbury, and then continue to the woods and open parkland of East Carlton. There are even more kids now than this morning. The vibe is happy and nostalgic. Thirty years ago, when Matt was small, it was more difficult to find things to do and places to go which were buggy-able, and we used to come here for R & R.

The Hall at East Carlton is vast and chateau-like, and there's much scaffolding. I think it's the same stuff that was here in the nineteen-eighties. I sit on a bench and am joined by Gill, whose husband Geoff is away by the tea-room making slow progress towards her through the crowds in his powered chair. We talk about Northamptonshire's countryside, and compare it to Kent, where I was born. She asks if I've been to Dingley yet, over past Brampton Ash, and I say I have and how pretty it looked last autumn with all the cyclamen along the church path. She says, understandably a trifle wistfully, that Geoff was a footpath warden there. As I start to walk again I'm able to surprise Geoff with a greeting as he motors by. I very much like these casual encounters, afforded by being a solitary walker. Such nice people are a motivation to kick the habit of sloth, and keep on being a pilgrim...

Daily Greener (with apologies to Jamaican readers!)  16.5 km. 5 hrs. 14 deg. C. Unbroken sun. 7 stiles. 8 gates. 1 bridge. Three churches (including St. Peter's, East Carlton, not mentioned above). all closed. Squirrels, pheasants, sparrows, tits and wagtails ( all the more visible because of the lack of vegetation) but singing their heads off, because like the humans they're being fooled by the unseasonal weather.

There I was in the park
And suddenly amazed again.
These people around me -
Absorbing impressions
Digesting information
Communicating endlessly
By thought or word or deed.
Each one an Alexandrian library
Trading billions of bits of stuff
Building each on each
And my belief is strengthened.
This can't be for nothing.
This must mean something.
Mustn't it?
Hallow the thoughts I have
The notes I play
The words I write
The relationships I'm privileged to share.
Let them all resound to your glory
And find a home in the fulfilment of your immense purposes

Saturday, 23 February 2019

Another Box of Delights

As I do, from time to time, this is where I've been over the last six months...

Walk 63:   Teeton - Guilsborough - Hollowell - Cottesbrooke - Creaton - Teeton ( 17 km.)

Walk 64:   Winwick - Elkington - Cold Ashby - Thornby - Winwick ( 15 km.)

Walk 65:   Cottesbrooke - Naseby - Haselbech - Maidwell - Cottesbrooke ( 21 km.)

Walk 66:   Naseby - Sulby - Welford - Sibbertoft - Naseby ( 19 km.)

Walk 67:   Sibbertoft - Marston Trussell - East Farndon - Gt. Oxendon - Clipston - Sibbertoft ( 22 km.)

Walk 68:   Maidwell - Kelmarsh - Arthingworth - Harrington - Draughton - Maidwell ( 23 km.)

Walk 69:   Gt. Oxendon - Braybrooke - Brampton Ash - Dingley - Braybrooke - Gt. Oxendon
( 21 km.)

Walk 70:   Rushden - Wymington - Knotting - Yelden - Newton Bromswold - Rushden (21 km.)

Walk 71:   Barton Seagrave - Kettering Christ the King - Warkton - Weekley - Kettering All Saints - St. Andrew's - St. Mary's - SS Peter & Paul's - St. Michael's - Barton Seagrave ( 16 km.)

Walk 72:   Kettering - Broughton - Great Cransley - Mawsley - Loddington - Thorpe Malsor - Kettering ( 25 km.)

Walk 73:   Loddington - Orton - Rothwell - Desborough - Rushton - Glendon - Loddington (21 km.)

Walk 74:   Weekley - Geddington - Little Oakley- Gt. Oakley - Newton - Geddington- Weekley
( 18 km.)

Walk 75:   Cranford - Twywell - Slipton - Grafton Underwood - Cranford ( 16 km.)

Walk 76:   Brampton Ash - Stoke Albany - Wilbarston - Ashley - Sutton Bassett - Brampton Ash ( 21 km.)

So...that's now a grand total of 1418 kilometres on the tramp, and I'm about two thirds of the way to Peterborough. See you there! And as you'll see from the introductory pic, looking more like a vagrant with every successive mile.

Well, the Church of England, Peterborough Diocese, made it into the pages of The Times a week or so ago, and not for a good reason. You remember Kings Sutton? All ain't well in those parts. 'Vicar's wife boycotts church in row over women priests', ran the headline. A parishioner is quoted as saying; 'I resigned because I thought the PCC was out of touch with the wider community. The church is now looked upon as exclusive and out of touch with the parish...' ( The PCC is split on the issue of women clergy, and the church warden used a casting vote to maintain the embargo.)

Kings Sutton is a sizeable settlement, and SS Peter and Paul ( a lovely building) serves all its people. There's a little church from the same benefice down the road in Newbottle so those who disagree with the PCC can find a temporary home but as opposed to the case in a large town where arguably there's room for a single, High Church, 'Forward in Faith', anti-women clergy congregation, I'm not sure it's right to effectively disenfranchise the majority in a community who have no problem with chromosomal difference.

Archbishop Justin has told General Synod to give up cynicism for Lent, and renew love for those with whom we differ within the Church, and I think this is both a very good line, and right. But the Anglican Church is working through the same dilemmas inhabiting the two major British political parties. If the C.of E. is to keep its structural integrity, if it has any future at all, can we continue to allow a 'broad church' (see how the politicians borrow the phrase) and let minorities dictate who does what? In this case, love may not be enough. The premise of this blog has been 'Better Together', but there are times when I doubt it. Maybe we have to let some people go.